When all factors are considered Angel Pagan could be the best signing made this off-season. There are many outfielders that teams will value more than Angel Pagan, but those players are either going to get long expensive multi-year deals or tear a farm system apart. Pagan is going to get nowhere near the contracts handed out to Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton, or BJ Upton and he costs nothing in prospects like Justin Upton, Denard Span, or Alex Gordon might. The signing of Pagan is the definition of a stop gap.
Pagan is coming off a good season for the World Champion San Francisco Giants and is going to want to cash in, but with the vast number of outfield options available this off-season Pagan could end up being plan B or C for many teams, and this creates the possibility to snag him before the bidding wars find him. While teams are fighting over the more expensive options a smart team will swoop in and sign Pagan for a two year contract in the teens with either a vesting or mutual option for a third season. Pagan will then reward that team with steady production in centerfield while their prospects develop.
The Nationals are the near perfect situation to sign Pagan. They need to improve outfield defense and getting Morse out of left field does that. Advanced stats say that Pagan is more of a corner outfielder where he has a 13.1 UZR/150 in left compared to a -0.8 UZR/150 in center. That centerfield average is dragged down by the abysmal defensive season he had in 2011 with the Mets where he amassed a UZR/150 of -16.1. That isn’t Angel Pagan. He isn’t much more than an average centerfielder, but the main goal is to get Morse out of the outfield and have money to spend on other aspects of the team.
Pagan on offense is a good player. He is a switch hitter with speed who can lead-off. The average MLB centerfielder in 2012 hit .265/.330/.418 and Pagan for his career has hit .281/.333/.424. Pagan is average at both offense and defense exactly like one would imagine a cheaper alternative to be. The real benefit to going after Pagan isn’t so much the money he saves the Nationals for 2013 and 2014 it is the years on the deal.
Bourn, Upton, Victorino, or Hamilton are all going to take long multi-year commitments, and the Nationals have the prospects where those commitments may not be all that wise. As it stands right now the Nationals window of opportunity will start to close in 2015 when Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond head to free agency and it will all but slam shut if Harper and Strasburg are not retained past their current deals. Pagan would be long gone by that time, but if he stays and plays out his entire contract then Brian Goodwin would be able to step in as the starting centerfielder in 2015 and wouldn’t reach arbitration until 2017.
Depending on how Goodwin plays the Nationals may end up in a situation where they aren’t paying large money for a premium position until 2019 or 2020. That gives them plenty of payroll flexability to reach deals with all of their important homegrown players and to align the deals so that when the big money is being spent on those players they are able to work out similar back loaded deals for Goodwin, Rendon, or any other prospects that may make it to the majors between now and the 20’s. Signing Pagan isn’t just a good cost control move for the future it frees up the Nationals ability to make a run at a big free agent starting pitcher like Zack Greinke this off-season or Josh Johnson next off-season.
If Pagan were put up against any of the free agent or trade option for the outfield and no other factors were considered he would be the worst option. Every player available this off-season has put up better numbers than Pagan. The only one close is BJ Upton but because he is three years younger he will get a longer term deal. The fact that Pagan isn’t as good as any of these players is going to be reflected in what he gets when it comes to years and money, but this is an unprecedented off-season for outfielders.
In any other off-season being major league average at a premium position would get a player rewarded with an overpay, but this off-season is different and Pagan can be add at or below value, and unlike all the other options Pagan won’t cost any players in a trade or block prospects already in the system. The signing of Pagan also keeps costs low for now and into the future to allow the Nationals to better go after an Ace level starting pitcher and to keep their own star players in the fold to extend this current win cycle.