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Double The Fat, Half The Cost

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It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a Ronnie Belliard re-signing to post? Or it takes a Ronnie Belliard re-signing to laugh, it takes a Dmeat-Train re-signing to cry? Whatever. The Nats inked Ronnie B. to a two-year extension today, and here I am taking time out of my busy schedule and crazy social calendar to make a note of it.

A major leauge source with knowledge of the deal says it's a two-year, $3.5 million contract. He'll make $1.6 million next season, $1.9 million in '09. . . .

Belliard is making $850,000 this season.

So sayeth Das Svrluga. By happy coincidence, Nats 320 posted an interview with Belliard today. Belliard indicated he enjoyed playing in Washington and for Manny Acta, which cannot really be considered a surprise. (Sometimes, if for no reason other than novelty, I'd love to see a player, when asked about his host city, reply, "Dude, that place is the slimiest mudhole this side of Dagobah" -- or, you know, words to a less dorky effect.) Anyway, Belliard also said quite a few interesting things, like an explanation for why he plays second base while positioned in the opposition bullpen.

I cannot decide whether Belliard's signing says more about the malleability of the organizational plan (hereinafter, of course, "The Plan") or says nothing about The Plan, or whether the two are functionally the same thing when discussing The Plan. Is it overly cynical to postulate that just about every transaction, statement, manuever, or movement will be construed by some as not only in light of The Plan, but also in furtherance thereof? Hell, I swear Stan Kasten could announce tomorrow that he's going out for the role of the King of Siam in a community production held at the local middle school and a sizable contingent would note he's doing so as a calculated measure to gain in-roads in terms of Far East talent accumulation. Does signing Belliard to a two-year contract extension say anything at all about team-building? Must it?

It doesn't, and it needn't. All it means, as the preliminary Nats.com article notes, is Belliard won't be traded prior to next Tuesday's deadline. Or at least it means he more than likely won't be.

The article also states that the extension additionally means Belliard will be a part of the Nats' long-term future. Keeping in mind I'm a mere outsider -- and keeping in mind the phrase "long-term future" can refer to varying terms of, uh, longness -- I'm not so sure about that. The extension means the Nats now hold Belliard's rights through the 2009 season. But, pursuant to the metaphorical "bundle of rights" a property-owner holds, the Nats by and large dictate what to do with those rights. They could well keep Belliard through 2009; on the other hand, barring the extremely unlikely event the contract extension contains a no-trade clause, they could also trade Belliard along the way. It is not as though Belliard will accrue ten-and-five rights during the life of the contract.

Let's return to those salary figures for a moment: $1.6 million next year, $1.9 million in 2009. Those are correct? They're all we have at the moment; we'll presume they're correct. [Whoops, Nats.com has $3.5 million now. That's correct.] Either Belliard is an extraordinarily charitable chap, or in a moment of extreme clairvoyance he saw his professional demise and decided to get what he can while he can. From where I'm sitting, this seems like below-market -- or at least below what the market for Belliard will be in a matter of months. Granted, he settled for an NRI and $850,000 prior to this season, but the guy is hitting above .300 and has established he can fill in at all infield positions. Belliard has had to have reclaimed a good bit of value.

You can look at that two ways. First, you can say -- correctly -- the Nats have re-signed a quality contributor, a guy who can at worst fill in at a couple infield positions and provide a nice bench bat, for a relatively de minimis cost. Belliard doesn't need to continue hitting .300 for his contributions to be worth $1.6 to 1.9 million these days, even after considering much of his value lies in his batting average. It's quite possible Belliard has indeed been locked into the Nats' long-term future.

But that needn't be the case and, as a second matter, the contract extension would seem to accentuate Belliard's trade value next season for the same reasons the Nats themselves would find him valuable. Let's presume Belliard continues to hit and is indeed hitting well next season. A contender comes along and notes not only is the fellow the type of guy who could help in '08 but, hey! -- he's signed through '09, too. And for less than two million?

Come next July, Belliard will be viewed as neither a rental nor a millstone. Not that he could haul in a Grade-A prospect, of course, but he could stand to be an attractive trade bait. All he has to do is continue performing.

* * * *

The other thought Belliard's extension invokes -- and it is noted a bit in the Capitol Punishment post linked above, which you've no doubt read already, of course -- is whether the move impacts Felipe Lopez's future with the club. I guess it's too early to say. What we do know is that:

  • Lopez is arbitration-eligible at the end of the season;
  • Lopez can play both short and second; and
  • Lopez is better at second than short.
Oh, and we also know Cristian Guzman is signed through '08, and he's a shortstop.

I'd imagine the club hopes Lopez finishes this season with a strong kick. To tell the truth, I'm inclined to write off this season as bad campaigns for both Lopez and Austin Kearns and hope for bounce-backs next season. So, I'd say the club should pay Lopez his due in arbitration (Kearns, of course, is signed long-term), although I understand it isn't my money at play, and the Lerners don't seem too excited about ponying up any more of their money than absolutely necesary.

But Belliard's continued presence does give the team unanticipated options for next year and beyond. The Nats could maintain the status quo (ante-Guzman injury), employ Belliard as a bench presence, and get decent value out of that kind of contribution. Or they could trade Lopez for what they can. Or they could even non-tender Lopez. The last option seems unlikely, though one could argue Lopez has backed into a discussion on that on the merits.

At any rate, this is an interesting development. And hey, if Belliard is dealt next July 31 for prospects, you can always say that's about The Plan, too.