KEARNS GAINS LONG-TERM CONTRACT
Austin Kearns, who was arbitration eligible, has instead signed a three year extension with the Nationals on Thursday. The team has a club option for 2010.
When it became apparent last year that the Lerner's policy was going to build-from-within, I pleaded in one of my posts for the team to do what the Indians did a decade ago, to lock up the young stars to long-term deals. If you recall, it didn't take long for Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome and the rest of the team to mature and become one of the American League's dominant forces for six years.
But know that I applaud the policy but not the contract itself.
While I enjoy what Austin Kearns brings to the Nationals, he is not a star. His stats - until the trade - had been inflated by Cincinnati's bandbox of a ballpark.
Kearns' numbers would have looked like this last year had he stayed with the Reds all year (using his Cincinnati stats multiplied out to 550 at bats): Ave: 274 - 35 doubles - 2 triples - 27 homers - 85 RBI's - 90 runs scored. This is how Kearns' numbers might have looked had he played with the Nationals all year (again, using his D.C. stats multiplied out to 550 at bats): Ave: 250 - 32 doubles - 2 triples - 21 homers - 97 RBI's - 90 runs scored.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. But a guy who hits .250-21-97 is part of a good team and not someone that you build around. The Austin Kearns that Washington watched was similar in a lot of ways to Brad Wilkerson, and Bowden ended up trading him away. He's a nice piece of the team's future but certainly not the future of the Washington Nationals.
There were just too many strikeouts, too many popups to the right side, to say that this is a "great day" for the Washington Nationals. But Kearns is a solid player, someone who will make Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Church better. And considering that the contract will pay Kearns just $16.5 million over the next three years, the Nationals are certainly not overpaying for having some stability in right field.
I do worry about Kearns sometimes. The reason that Ryan Zimmerman seemed almost slump-proof last year was his command of the strikezone and his ability to hit the ball the other way with power. Kearns does not have that type of talent. When he loses sight of the strikezone, he can go into prolonged slumps, the 0-20 or 2-30 with a dozen or more strikeouts type that can really hurt a team.
I love the move and I can live with Kearns as a long-term solution in right. Bowden went out of his way in the press conference to underscore Kearns' character and integrity. He told reporters that - yes - he was shocked when he was traded to Washington, but he has grown to like the area and now feels very comfortable here.
Kearns is happy, and so are the Nationals.
And really, so am I.