Jim Bowden's Big Bag-O-Money
Team officials have whispered to the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga that the 2006 payroll has been increased from $48 million to roughly $60 million, and could go a bit higher if necessary. That's great. That's kind of like having your car's air bag inflate the day after you get into a wreck. That said, general manager Jim Bowden can now be more flexible in how he approaches the 2006 season, both through the free agent market as well as trades with other teams.
The A.J. Burnett Sweepstakes: Amazingly, the Nationals made a concerted effort to sign the fireballing righthander, though I doubt they really ever had a chance to sign him. Bowden made an offer of $40 million over four years, about the same as the Cardinals offer, but less than the Blue Jays five year, $55 million tender. He's just not worth it. Burnett is a career sub .500 pitcher, and the Nationals would be paying for what he might do, rather than what he has done. It makes more sense to use that $10 million and get two second-tier players, guys like Kevin Millwood and Jarrod Washburn. I'd much rather see the team have a chance to win every day instead of only when the top of the rotation is on the mound.
Brad Wilkerson's Comings And Goings: There has been several teams making inquiries about the Nationals' outfielder, mainly the Cubs and Blue Jays. However, what other teams are offering just isn't enough. The Cubs have reportedly offered Corey Patterson, who has more baggage than Wilkerson. The Blue Jays are willing to part with Alex Rios (the Nats would have to cough up another player too) but he's not an improvement either. Wilkerson just might revert to form next season, and his upside is far greater than the other players being talked about. If that's as good as it gets, let's keep him and hope for the best.
The Florida Marlins say that the Nationals don't have anyone they particularly want in exchange for their fleet centerfielder, Juan Pierre. He probably goes to the Yankees. Although Yankee catcher John Flaherty seemed to be the early choice to replace Gary Bennett, Bowden has said that the team is going in "a different direction," and that direction may just be Todd Pratt, one of the best backup catchers in the game. And although Frank Robinson "loves" Javier Vasquez's ability, it just doesn't make sense to pay him more ($12 million/year) than the team would have paid Burnett.
Things are starting to happen in Dallas, and the Nationals pockets are bulging a little bigger than we first believed. That said, I don't think that changes very much for the Nationals. Having sat on the sidelines since the general manager's meetings two months ago, the team has not taken part in the myriad of conversations that laid the groundwork for what is going to happen this week. I am afraid that the team will be left to fend for the scraps and leftovers that no one else wants. If Bowden is smart, he'll not fall into this trap and work instead on acquiring prospects in exchange for the team's better talent.
It doesn't make sense to keep shoring up the team so that it can reach the .500 mark every season but go no further. It's time to build for the future, and that happens only with young talent. Just ask the Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians.