- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

The Washington Nationals are on their way to the perfect place in the universe for their shallow-pockets ownership.

Through a variety of circumstances, it will make sense for the Lerners to sit on their wallets this winter.

Why?

cLousy personnel decisions that tie the club down with at least $13 million in payroll next year for two players - Dmitri Young and Austin Kearns - who won’t come close to earning that money and who are virtually untradeable because of their contracts.

cReluctance to sign free agents the past two seasons at least to pretend to be competitive, turning the Nationals into baseball’s whoopee cushion, an organization viewed as a practical joke by major league players.

cA free agent market in 2009 that isn’t necessarily good for their needs - a power-hitting outfielder and first baseman. The market is either feast (Manny Ramirez) or famine (Jason Giambi), and because the Nationals have become a practical joke they may have to overpay just to attract famine.

So as pathetic as this sounds, it won’t make sense for the Lerners to reach into their pockets to sign any free agents of note in 2009. Instead, they perhaps should break down and pay first-round pick Aaron Crow major league money. At least he will take it.

Let’s start with pitching and get it out of the way quick. CC Sabathia isn’t signing with the Nationals, even if the Lerners offer him one of the Tysons Corner malls. Someone likely will sign Sabathia to a long-term deal worth about $150 million - ignoring an obvious lesson of free agency: It’s not wise to invest in long-term deals with any free agent pitcher. Save that money for your own ace, the one you grew from a baby and know every little thing about.

OK, now to first base. Young is sidelined because he hasn’t been in playing shape since the day he reported to spring training. Yet the team is on the hook for another $5 million for Young, who turns 35 next season. (Who did general manager Jim Bowden think he was bidding against when he gave Young a two-year, $10 million extension last season? Vince McMahon?)

The other option is Nick Johnson, a decent guy whose history of injuries dictates he can never be counted on. Minor league prospect Chris Marrero is not ready and may never be, so the Nationals could use a slugging first baseman next season and beyond.

Who? Mark Teixeira? Not even for the other Tysons Corner mall.

Then what do you do? Overpay for the likes of Carlos Delgado or Giambi?

The other pressing need is a power-hitting outfielder. The player that fans and, of course, Bowden, who drafted him in Cincinnati, seem to be infatuated with is Adam Dunn, who was dealt by the Reds this week to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He represents 40 home runs penciled into any lineup, so the attraction is understandable.

But according to former Reds teammate, Bronson Arroyo, Dunn will look for a $100 million to $120 million deal. That’s not happening here in Washington, and that’s good because the Nationals would be a last-place team with or without Dunn.

Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said earlier this year on a sports talk show what most people in baseball already know - Dunn is not the kind of guy you want in your clubhouse.

“Do you know the guy doesn’t really like baseball that much?” Ricciardi told a caller to the show. “Do you know the guy doesn’t have a passion to play the game that much? How much do you know about the player? There’s a reason why you’re attracted to some players, and there’s a reason why you’re not attracted to some players. I don’t think you’d be very happy if we brought Adam Dunn here.”

Although Bowden would defend Dunn later on ESPN 980 locally, Ricciardi didn’t just come up with this notion. This is Dunn’s reputation in the game. He may help Arizona win a pennant, but he will be part of whatever success they have - not the foundation for it.

So who then? Pat Burrell? Pay him for finally putting up the numbers he was overpaid for in Philadelphia all those years? Vlad Guerrero? Convince him the team is still in Montreal?

Possibly. There will be so many high-priced free agents on the market in 2009 that second- and third-tier players may be available for reasonable one- or two-year deals. The big-market teams will have spent their money. All that will be left, then, are the small-market teams that struggle to bring in revenue - Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Florida and Washington (that last one is a joke, for those thick of head).

Otherwise, get ready for your 2009 Washington Nationals lineup: Emilio Bonafacio, second base; Cristian Guzman, shortstop; Ryan Zimmerman, third base; Nick Johnson, first base; Elijah Dukes, outfield; Lastings Milledge, outfield; Austin Kearns, outfield, and Jesus Flores, catcher.

Why? Because they are already here.

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