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[October 14th] -- I am very impressed with the general understanding that Nationals' fans have regarding the business of Major League baseball. You would think that Alfonso Soriano, coming off a .272-46-95 season, would be considered a "sign at all costs" player by the Nats Nation. Not so. The vast majority of posters on the various team message boards have a "tread carefully" attitude regarding Soriano. Yes, they want him back, but only at a price that won't hamstring the team in the future. If Soriano doesn't take the Nationals initial offer of five years, $70 million dollars, then most think it best if the Nationals look elsewhere for a left fielder.

I couldn't agree more with the Nationals' fans. More than that, however, I really don't even want to spend the $70 million dollars. Too many things can go wrong. Remember, it wasn't too many months ago that Jim Bowden offered Jose Guillen a multi-year deal at $10 million per year. Had the Nationals been hampered by that excessive contract, I don't think they would have even tried to re-sign Soriano this off season.

Signing Soriano is a bad idea; it's hurts the team's long-term viability.

From 1999 through 2003, The Los Angeles Dodgers waited for 3rd baseman Adrian Beltre to play up to his talent. Oh, he wasn't playing poorly, but neither was he playing like the team had hoped. In 2004, Beltre finally had that breakout season that Dodger fans had been waiting for. He batted .334 with 48 home runs and drove in 121 runs. The stud had finally arrived. Too bad he arrived during Beltre's free-agent year. The Seattle Mariners, desperately trying to regain their dominance in the American League Western division, signed Beltre to a five year, $64 million dollar deal (almost $13 million per year).

In the five years before his break-out year, Beltre averaged .265-20-73. In the two years since signing that mega-deal, Beltre is hitting .261-22-88. In other words, he has reverted to being that slightly-above-average 3rd baseman, but he is now getting super-star money, and there is nothing that the Mariners can do about it. They certainly aren't able to trade him for any prospects -- unless they "eat" a majority of Beltre's contract that is. So, they have to wait until the contract expires in 2009 before they can out from under their mistake.

All across the major leagues, big-contracts haunt the majority of teams. The St. Louis Cardinals paid Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds a combined $24 million dollars in 2006 in return for 41 homers and 165 RBI's. Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman combined for 43 homers and 187 RBI's while earning $3.6 million, $21 million less than the Cardinals' duo. The Rockies are paying Todd Helton $16 million to be there first baseman -- he hit .302-15-81 in 2006. Is his production worth $13 million dollars more than Nick Johnson's .290-23-77? I don't think so. Even teams like the Oakland Athletics, who have worked miracles with a small payroll, can get caught with an inflated salary on their roster. Jason Kendall batted .295-1-50 for the Athletics in 2006 and was one of the keys in helping them win the AL West. But he received almost $12 million dollars for his efforts, an amount worthy of a slugging outfielder, but not a singles-hitting catcher.

I hope the Nationals adopt a policy of not paying long-term, hyper-inflated contracts to its players. Once the minor league system is restocked with prospects, the Nationals should adopt a system of 1) developing a young player, 2) playing him for five or six years, then 3) trading him for prospects before he qualifies for free-agency. Some think this is a policy of low-payroll / high-profits for the owners (read: Tampa Bay Devil Rays), but I couldn't disagree more. Just look at our own team. Jose Vidro is making $8 million dollars a year, but today has only $3 million dollars worth of talent left in his aging body. We can't play him and we can't trade him. Because he has a guaranteed roster spot, the Nationals are stymied from signing other, more needed players because of Vidro's salary.

Certainly, there are exceptions. Ryan Zimmerman has shown himself to be a "team player" of the highest caliber. He was the first draft pick to come to terms with his new club, and is driven by desire, not income. He is the second coming of Frank Howard -- a player who reflects all that is good in baseball both on and off the field. He deserves whatever he wants. But if Nick Johnson, for example, continues to play at the level he did in 2006, he is going to be able to demand a hefty price tag when his current contract expires in 2010. He won't be worth the money he'll make. No one will at that age and with that experience. The answer, then, is to refrain from signing players in their late 20's and early 30's.

The only option, then, is to enjoy the fruits of the players' labor during that time before he is eligible for free-agency. Once that player is close to free-agency, trade him away for two top-tier prospects. By replacing one player with two, the team will always have a surplus of prospects and would then be able to trade them should the team need a veteran player to shore up a weak point in the lineup during a pennant drive.

This will work, but only if it becomes policy. A hap-hazard, "I'll do it today but not tomorrow" way of running the franchise will only continue its poor performance. Kasten has got it right. Build for the future. But he and Bowden have to be consistent to that end, and means fielding some sub-par teams over the next two or three years.

I'm willing to accept that. Are you?


I'm not asking for the yankees, and I know the "prospects, farm system" it they way to go....but, I need something to watch, a team that may hover around .500.

Also, I hate teams that follow that model -"1) developing a young player, 2) playing him for five or six years, then 3) trading him for prospects before he qualifies for free-agency."- that would make me angry as a fan because it sends the message (atleast to me) that we don't won't to commit to this team and spend to much money. But knowing the Lerner's "biz savy-ness*cheapness*" and Kasten's "14 straight divison titles-ness*only one WS*", it would not suprise me if this is the way the Nats will e run.

Never the less, I would no be sadden if Sori leaves. It was a great year and gave me something to watch. But, he is to strickey(go 15 for 20 with 5 homers then go 0 for 20) and dosen't drive in enough runs(and when he dose they don't really count).

----RANT OVER----

Adopting a position of never signing a free agent / player past his 6th year is just as mistaken as depending on free agents for your talent base. There will be players -- Zim could well be one -- that the team will want to lock up in his prime years. Zim will hit FA eligibility when he's 27 -- just as he's entering his prime. If he continues to develop, he may very well be worth a long-term contract through his age 33 year.

A superior starter (of Maddux or Glavine level) might well be worth a long-term contract at FA prices. The team really has to look at each case individually. Consistent Grade A seasons can be worth a long-term investment. Grade B players who have a fluke Grade A season in their contract year will break your heart 99 times out of 100.
As I mentioned, there are the exceptions -- and I used Zimmerman as the example. I loved the Indians' template from a decade ago -- you know -- when they signed all their young stars to multi-year deals.

Mariofan, the Yankees are proof that spending large sums of loot on free agents just don't work. If the team follows that three step process that you don't like (it's not that I like it either, it's just that it works), the Nats will always be in contention. Look at the A's. Sure they hardly ever get past the first round, but they are almost always in the playoffs. Same with the Braves. I'll take either of those team's recent histories instead of the Yankees, who hasn't won a W.S. since 2000.

Just my point of view...
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