The Eaton Trade is Not Rizzo’s Panicked Desperation

Or is it?

There is definitely Twitter backlash towards GM Mike Rizzo:

Me, I really can’t say for sure, but I do not think it is as obvious of an overpay as some believe.

Now, if you don’t believe in WAR and looking at $/WAR for the basis of an argument, you should stop here.

Or jump straight to the comments to complain about the methodology; or tweet out to #FireRizzo.

For those of you still with me, let’s do some math!

In this post, I am going to be using Chris Mitchell’s recent article as the basis for WAR calculations on Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. The projection calculations in that article are based on KATOH, a method that attempts to use data to estimate future MLB WAR. I’m not an expert on the method, but I do know that there is plenty of opportunity for error with it.

That said, it’s a method. And one we can use to at least get a feel for the Eaton deal. Enough perhaps to tell if Rizzo really did jump off the deep end once he missed out on Sale.

Giolito and Lopez Projections

Lucas Giolito KATOH WAR Projection
Lucas Giolito 6-year KATOH WAR Projection 

Lucas Giolito KATOH WAR Projection
Reynaldo Lopez 6-year KATOH WAR Projection
Chris has provided a range of outcomes for both Giolito and Lopez. So, we want to translate that into an estimated WAR.

To calculate this, we multiply the WAR for each column by the likelihood it occurs. In these calculations, I am assuming the midpoint of each column (so, 1-4 WAR becomes 2.5 WAR) So, for Giolito, this would look like:

(0 x 4%) + (0.5 x 14%) + (2.5 x 20%) + (5.5 x 7%) + (8.5 x 10%) + (11.5 x 9%) + (14.5 x 7%) + (17.5 x 14%) + (20.5 x 15%) = 9.38 projected WAR over his first 6 years in MLB.

With this calculation, the biggest issue may be the decision to use 20.5 for the 20+ column. I can understand if one wants to use a higher number. For every 5 additional WAR, you would need to an extra .75 WAR to the final WAR projection.

Repeating the process for Reynaldo Lopez generates an estimate of 4.97 WAR.

Adam Eaton’s Contract and Projections

Adam Eaton is signed to a very team-friendly deal ($38.4M over 5 years if both club options are picked up) if he maintains anything comparable to his current production.

Nationals fans have valid concerns about Eaton’s ability to maintain his defensive WAR while playing CF. For that reason, I am using Baseball Reference’s Offensive WAR calculation.

Eaton’s 3-year Offensive WAR average is 4.43. Over his remaining contract, that extrapolates to 4.43 x 5 = 22.15 Offensive WAR.

Comparing Contract Values

Dave Cameron’s 2014 article estimates the value of WAR at $6M / 1 WAR.

Using $6M, Eaton’s estimated surplus value would be $94.5M (22.1 Offensive WAR x $6M – $38.4).

Using $6M, Giolito’s and Lopez’s projected surplus value would be $86.1M.

With these estimates, if Dane Dunning accumulates 1 WAR in the next 6 years, then the deal would be roughly even. Or, if Dunning does nothing but Eaton declines 5-7% percent over the next 5 years, then the deal appears roughly even.

My Thoughts

On a pure value analysis, the trade does not strike me as being overly lopsided for either team. Eaton provides a solid floor. At this point in his career, he is a proven commodity and provides a safe expectation of comparable production with small declines going forward.

Giolito, Lopez, and Dunning (to a smaller degree) provide a range of possible outcomes. This is the nature of prospects. And that does not take into account TINSTAAPP (There is no such thing as a pitching prospect).

I think Rizzo traded the immense upside of Giolito (and Lopez) for the sure thing. Chances are he perceives this as important as the Nationals window is clearly defined, particularly if Harper ultimately leaves. No doubt Rizzo is feeling the pressure to win now.

But, he also recognizes that his rotation has a great duo at the top. So, perhaps pitching does not need to be the Nationals concern right. Of course, this runs counter to the attempt to acquire Sale. But, it’s Chris Sale. If he is available, you don’t NOT go after him, right?

Couple this with the fact that there are some scattered concerns about Giolito (declining velocity, injury history). One would expect the Nationals would have the best feel for Giolito’s future (again, pitching prospects are notoriously difficult to project).

If they have soured on him as much as it appears, then perhaps the WAR projections are too high. If that ends up being the case, then perhaps we look back and see this as a steal for the Nationals.

Or, perhaps Giolito hits the 29% expected outcome of 16+ WAR and single-handedly wins this for Rick Hahn and the White Sox.

This is one deal I’m looking forward to evaluating for the next few years.

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