Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Next? Nationals Edition

Now that the Nationals have officially missed out on signing 1B Mark Teixeira, what should they do next?

Well, it's complicated.

Several sources have mentioned the Nationals as contenders for Manny Ramirez, who remains unsigned with few suitors. Ramirez is reportedly looking for a three or four year contract worth at least $20-$25 million per year. Even though Ramirez is one of the best hitters in baseball, Ramirez's contract wishes are pretty steep for any team besides the Yankees.

So why does Ramirez make sense for the Nationals?

Simply put, the Nationals don't have much else and Ramirez would be a star player, who could revive baseball in Washington DC and inject some life into this listless franchise. Even at age 36, Ramirez is still one of the biggest stars in baseball and he could help the Nationals sell some tickets in their new stadium and show the rest of the baseball world that the Nationals are serious about competing.

However, signing Ramirez would be a huge risk for the Nationals.
First of all, Ramirez has a history of being a cancer with the Boston Red Sox and whose to say that Manny will not continue his act in Washington. Between not playing hard and faking injuries, Manny became a major problem with for the Red Sox, which ultimately forced the Red Sox to deal him away. The Nationals cannot afford such transgressions considering that they do not have the payroll or fan base of the Red Sox. The Nationals need a sure thing, who they know will produce.

Also, the Nationals already have a glutton of outfielders. Besides the emerging Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes, the Nationals recently acquired Josh Willingham from the Marlins, which rounds out a young and potentially productive outfield. On top of those three, the Nationals also have Austin Kearns, Justin Maxwell, Willie Harris, and Wily Mo Pena fighting for at bats in 2008. Considering how many outfielders they already have, it would not make sense to throw tons of money at Manny only to replace younger and cheaper players.

And most importantly, the Nationals are probably not close to competing. Even though the Nationals have some talent, they are probably a few years away at least until they are ready to compete. How can they justify having a $20+ million dollar left fielder when they need to invest in so many other areas of the team? Ramirez would not be a cure all for the Nationals, who have several other weaknesses that they need to address.

I do not believe that Manny Ramirez is a good option for the Nationals. Same goes for Adam Dunn. The Nationals need to think long term, not short term.

With that, I believe that the Nationals need to be patient right now. It's still a buyer's market out there and there will be many good deals to be had. It's important to spend money, but the Nationals need to spend wisely even in the wake of losing Teixeira.

So here's my idea for the Nationals: go after either Orlando Hudson or Oliver Perez. Hudson would be a great fit for the Nationals, who badly need someone to lead their young group of players while providing steady production. Hudson would give the Nationals both aspects-offensively, defensively, and off the field. A perfect leader who might be had at a quality price.

As for Perez, we all know that he is inconsistent. However, Perez is only 27 years and has fantastic stuff. The Nationals would have the unique opportunity to sign Perez to a 3-5 year contract and watch him pitch in DC during his prime. That's an opportunity that would benefit the Nationals in both the short term and long term because Perez has the ability to produce at a high level throughout the length of the deal.

Perez will never be confused for an ace, but he has many qualities that should interest the Nationals. We'll see if the price comes down on Perez, especially as the suitors begin to shy away.

I'm sure if the Nationals want to spend money, the options will be out there. But do not forget about the big picture, the future, and smartly invest those dollars into guys who will help the team grow as a whole towards a winning future.

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