The Washington Nationals made the first big free agent signing of the offseason, and it did not involve re-signing Bryce Harper. Instead, they handed $140 million over six years to left-hander Patrick Corbin.
It was a surprise to many because all the noise had the 29-year-old going to either the Philadelphia Phillies or (more likely) his hometown New York Yankees. But, according to Jack Curry, Corbin priced himself out of New York’s range by looking for “Darvish Money”- in reference to Yu Darvish’s six years, $126 million deal from last winter.
But it turns out Corbin topped Darvish, who is much more proven than the lefty. And it’s a significant risk that the Nationals are taking because they may be falling for the “contract-year trap” where players inflate their market value by elevating their play the year before they hit free agency.
It’s a season that many times is atypical from the player’s entire body of work, making teams wary whether he is genuinely that good or merely a mirage because of the financial incentives. Most teams end up breaking, and we may be seeing that with Patrick Corbin and the Nationals.
On the surface, it’s understandable why Corbin got such a huge deal. He is a southpaw in the middle of his prime with a relatively fresh arm (less than 1,000 innings) coming off a season where he threw 200 Innings while posting a 3.15 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 1.05 WHIP, and 246 strikeouts which helped him finish fifth in Cy Young voting.
Grouping him with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg gives the Nationals arguably the best starting rotation, or at least trio, in the MLB. Or so you would think. Washington is taking a big gamble on someone who is talented but still somewhat of a question mark.
Yes, Corbin had an excellent season, but the lefty still has a lot to prove because he’s had an up-and-down career before breaking out in 2018.
His “fresh arm”? Well, that’s because of injury. His 945.2 career innings have come across six seasons. That’s not even 160 innings per season. And in those 945.2 innings, the lefty has a career 3.91 ERA and 1.285 WHIP — not exactly front of the rotation numbers like he is getting paid to be.
He made a name for himself as a 23-year-old in 2013, opening that campaign with a 2.24 ERA in his first 21 starts before slowing down at the end and finishing with a 3.41 ERA in 208.1 innings.
Then he missed 2014 with Tommy John surgery and threw just 85 innings in 2015. In 2016 he pitched 155.2 innings and posted a horrid 5.15 ERA. It got so bad for Corbin that year that he was demoted to the bullpen. And in 2017 he had a 4.03 ERA in 189.2 frames.
And in these first 745.2 innings, the 29-year-old had just 651 strikeouts in 745.2 innings (7.86 K/9) before seeing a spike to an elite 11.1 K/9 in 2018.
Corbin is talented, no doubt, but there are just a lot of abnormals to consider before being sold on him being the guy the Arizona Diamondbacks believed he was going to be. He’s had one great year, one good year, two bad seasons, one partial season in his return from injury where he was solid, and one missed season.
How that equates to $140 and more money than a Yu Darvish is astounding. Corbin just rode the perfect storm: Talented player who was inconsistent for the majority of his career but finally put everything together during what happened to be his contract season. And the Nationals look like they may have fallen victim.
Even J.D. Martinez is getting much less than from the Boston Red Sox. Obviously, it’s not fair to compare the two because one is a designated hitter and the other is a starting pitcher. But in no universe would anyone think that Patrick Corbin should be making more than Martinez.
Martinez has established himself as one of the elite hitters in baseball, if not the best. Corbin is far from it on the pitching side. Right now, it’s fair to say that he is a good number three starter at best- nowhere near being an ace. Nor is he battle-tested, having never pitched in the playoffs.
But this would not be the first time that the Nationals took a risk signing a free agent to a megadeal. Their deal with Jayson Werth was criticized by many, and the criticisms turned out valid, as the veteran never lived up to the $126 million he was handed.
And what’s baffling about this recent signing is that if the Nationals were serious about retaining Bryce Harper, they could have allocated the $140 million in his direction. Now, to keep him, it would most likely push their total winter spending to over $500 million.
Corbin is a good pitcher, and someone any team would love to have. But at that price tag? Probably not. It’s too much money for a relatively unproven commodity.
However, if he can replicate his 2018 for the majority of the contract and have a slight decline towards the end, it will be money well spent. But again, there is no track record to suggest he can do such a thing. Only time will tell, but there’s no doubt that the Washington Nationals are taking a $140 million risk.
Featured Image via Flickr/jnashboulden
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