Free Agency Isn't Always Free
[March 4th] - There will be a lot of long faces when the Nationals take the field this afternoon against the New York Mets. Brian Lawrence is gone for the year. Robert Fick, Joey Eischen and Luis Ayala have sore elbows. And now, Jose Guillen will be out until [at least] June.
Short term, this sucks big time.
But what about the long term? How will Guillen's compound injuries over the past several months effect the team's future? At the end of the 2006 season, the Nationals will have several "high profile" free agents whose loss could significantly alter the team's makeup.
As of today, only Livan Hernandez and John Patterson are assured of returning in 2007. Brian Lawrence, injured and out for the season, has a team-option for next year at $6 million dollars. Not even Jim Bowden is stupid enough to pay that much for a pitcher coming off of reconstructive arm surgery. It's doubful that Lawrence will ever play a game in a Nationals uniform. Ramon Ortiz is this year's Esteban Loiaza, a stop-gap player with adequate talent who will benefit from the spaciousness of RFK. He will probably follow Loiaza to the riches of free agency. Ryan Drese, another player with injury problems, is due to make $3 million in 2007 with a $50,000 buyout. $3 million for Ryan Drese? I don't think so. In fact, I know so. It's not going to happen. I don't know what to think about Tony Armas Jr. He seemed genuinely appreciative that the Nats gave him another chance when no other else would. Team officials are very impressed with the way Armas is throwing, and if he remains healthy, the Nats might be willing to take a chance on him with an incentive-laden multi-year deal. Of the six "starters" on the roster today, two will be back, and one might be back. Not very promising.
Nick Johnson said in an interview on Friday that he doesn't feel slighted by the Nationals' attempt to sign Jose Guillen to a long term deal without talking to him as of yet. He says he wants to stay with the club, but that's just not going to happen. It's been five years since he played an entire year without being injured. The team has a player in Larry Broadway that they feel sure will be ready next season. Broadway is a power hitter with a good glove; Johnson is a gap hitter with a great glove. There is no way they offer a multi-year contract to injury prone line drive hitter with Broadway waiting in the wings. The Nats could easily trade him now and survive nicely with a first-base "by committee" until Broadway is ready. Color him gone.
Alfonso Soriano will probably be traded before spring training ends. He gave the Nationals "three weeks" to figure out the situation. He says he's not playing the outfield. That leaves moving Jose Vidro (or placing him on the DL if he's injured) or trading him. Frank Robinson has repeatedly said that his two favorite players were Jamey Carroll and Jose Vidro. Bowden won't get rid of both of them and risk Robinson's rath. No. Soriano is on the way out.
That brings us to Jose Guillen. Jose is a free agent who wants very much to remain in Washington. Washington is a team in desperate need of a slugger, but not a slugger with a bad temper and injury problems. Will the Nationals be willing now, after two surgeries in six months, to still offer that multi-year contract to Guillen? I don't know. If Bowden can't trade for an established outfielder (perhaps Aubrey Huff or Wily Mo Pena), then they probably will resign him. But if the Nationals are able to trade Soriano and one of the other soon-to-be free agents for a solid outfielder, they just might put aside any thoughts of a contract until the season ends, and hope that no one else want's the volatile Guillen.
None of this takes into account the plethora of one-year players signed by Bowden, the Ficks, the Jacksons, Andersons, LeCroys and so on. If they all leave after the 2006 season, the Nationals will be left with a only a fraction of the players they began '06 with.
And we might not even have an owner or a stadium deal by then. And the name might not be "Nationals" any more.
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