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Don't Sweat the Ivan Rodriguez Signing: Nationals Will Be Better with Some Pudge

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13:  Catcher Ivan Rodriguez #7 of the Texas Rangers on September 12, 2009 at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 8, 2009

My, how the tide has turned.


When reports first broke late last night that the Washington Nationals had signed future Hall-of-Fame catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to a two-year, $6 million contract, comment boxes around the Internet were filled with “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!” responses.


The last-place, dead-from-the-neck-up Washington Natinals Nationals had somehow convinced Rodriguez, one of baseball’s all-time greatest catchers, to sign with them. He might start, he could back up Jesus Flores, and he most certainly will be a mentor to both Flores and the bevy of young pitchers the Nationals have waiting to join the big club.


But this morning, the “great news” has begun to turn into second-guessing. The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin reported this morning that “baseball insiders” keep taking him aside and asking him why the Nationals agreed to this deal. Fans seem to have awoke from a drunk so deep that they dreamt the Nationals had actually done something right.


Who did they sign?


A 38-year-old catcher who had to wait until spring training last year to get a one-year, $1.5 million contract from the Houston Astros gets a $6 million deal after playing like the aforementioned 38-year-old last year?


He hasn’t had an on-base percentage above .340 in five years, and last year it was a woeful .280. His batting average has been in a tail-spin, and, really, he is just a shell of the player he was at his prime.


But that’s to be expected; he’s 38.


Since no one can come up with the definitive answer as to whether this was a good move, I guess I will.


This was a terrible financial move, but a pretty good baseball one.


Look, the Nationals seem unwilling to spend money on “temporary” free agents, guys who will cost the team a great deal of money but won’t in the end help the team become a winner. But they are interested in finding veterans who through their talent and their presence can help the young players on the team develop.


Why else would team president Stan Kasten wax poetic about 42-year-old John Smoltz, someone who may—or may not—have enough left in the tank to help the Nationals next year?


The team realizes that for Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and Craig Stammen and Jesus Flores to blossom, they need veteran players on the bench and in the clubhouse to teach them and to nurture them.


You’re right, there is no way in heck that Rodriguez is worth $6 million over the next two seasons. I doubt he’s worth even a third of that. But a team like the Washington Nationals, who are still in “laughingstock mode,” has to overpay to get what it wants, and I find the team’s willingness to do that hopeful.


Remember, it was the Detroit Tigers who were baseball’s laughingstock a few years back until they overpaid to get Pudge, and a couple of years later, they were in the World Series.


Many have suggested that the Nationals could have gotten just as good a catcher—perhaps even better—by signing someone like Brad Ausmus to a contract worth much less. That’s true, of course. But no one seriously believes that Ausmus could have mentored Flores—or helped the young pitchers—like Rodriguez will.


So, really, it’s all about money. Well, the Nationals have already said that they weren’t interested in signing any exceedingly large free agent contracts this offseason, which means those $6 million weren’t taken from somewhere else.


It didn’t cost the team another player.


But most importantly, we have to remember that this deal happened because new General Manager Mike Rizzo believed it would help the Nationals. It’s not like Jim Bowden got drunk last night and woke up with a hangover, only to find a pen and signed contract in bed with him.


No, I trust Rizzo. If he believes this was an important step, than this was an important step. He’s given me no reason to question him. That Nyger Morgan trade bought him a lot of goodwill.


Perhaps Rodriguez enjoys being part of reclamation projects. Perhaps he just likes a lot of money. Either way, he’s a step up from Wil Nieves and Josh Bard, and Nationals’ fans should be pleased that Rizzo is methodically finding the holes in the S.S. National and plugging them so quickly.


His deals thus far might not have been sexy, but they have sure been needed.

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