The more I follow the Nationals, the more one singular thought rattles through my head with the annoying screech of a Metro pulling into a station: Teddy Lerner is cheap.
Not quite “Pirates perpetual firesale” cheap – just not willing to spend the money it takes to be really good. There’s an implicit buy-in to be a successful major league baseball team.
Aside from Cristian Guzman’s $16 million for two years extension, (what about his performance in the first four year contract warranted doubling it?) when have the Nats spent a lot of money on a questionable signing to make the team better?
Regardless of whether that money is spent in scouting, player development, free agency, or in the draft, the money must be spent. Just because it’s hard for the average fan to monitor the Nats’ spending on three of those four does not mean it doesn’t matter or isn’t important.
What causes me to say all of this now? It’s July 4, which means we are three days into the international signing period. Do you know how many legit prospects the Nationals have signed internationally this year? Two (pending physicals). Last year? Zero. And the year before was the Esmailyn Gonzalez disaster.
And their reasoning for not spending in the foreign market is simply because they have to sign Strasburg this year. The largest contract ever given out internationally was the A’s acquisition of Michael Ynoa, which cost $4.25 million. Think about that. Strasburg will probably sign for around $15 million (the $50 million estimates are overblown). And they can’t throw in another $6 million to get the two best prospects in Latin America?
Will they sign Steven Strasburg? I hope so. I actually think so. Because regardless of the shenanigans Scott Boras pulls, the net of it is that the Nats will still have the No. 1 pick next year (along with the true No. 1 that they will get for being the worst team in baseball). The only positive for Strasburg of going to Japan is he’d get paid more than the independent leagues. Alternatively, he’s taking a huge injury risk to play in Japan just to be the No. 1 pick the very next year.
The other problem with the logic of saving for one prospect is there’s this kid named Bryce Harper who throws 96 mph and hits high school pitching 570 feet who will demand even more money than Strasburg when the Nats draft him No. 1 overall next year. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated the other day. So that would be two consecutive years where the Nationals make no noise internationally.
I would think Stan Kasten knows the use in investing in foreign players. Just ask him what role Andruw Jones had in winning Atlanta division championships from 1996 to 1999 (when he was paid a grand total of 806,500 for two gold glove seasons).
Jones was clearly talented from the start, as he blitzed through the minors and played his first major league game as a 19 year old. Who’s to say that Miguel Angel Sano or Humberto Valor can’t have that same impact on a team?
But I guess we’ll never know – unless Kasten drills and finds oil underneath the Nationals bullpen. Or Teddy Lerner realizes that there is no substitute for spending money and dedicating resources to making the Nationals a success.