HELLER: Nats should save a princely sum and pass on Fielder

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s say it in one simple sentence: The Nats would be nuts to sign Prince Fielder.

Nuts as in crazy, insane, daft, wacko, bonkers, loco, mad, et al.

For one thing, they don’t really need him. For another, such a free agent signing at $150 million or so could seriously impact the Nationals’ chances of getting Ryan Zimmerman’s name on a long-term contract extension.

Now, I have nothing against Fielder, who seems like a decent enough sort and has averaged 38 homers and 107 RBI over the past six seasons. Nor would his signing exactly bankrupt Ted and Mark Lerner, who are among baseball’s richest owners. Yet the Lerners didn’t get that way by spending money foolishly (except for tossing $126 million at the ludicrously overpaid Jayson Werth). The addition of Fielder would be just that.

Did I say the Nats don’t need him. Let me count the ways:

1. Adam LaRoche is ready, willing and healthy enough to play first base after shoulder surgery last season. He’s one of baseball’s best fielders (no pun intended) at the position. And if you toss out his truncated 2011 season when he could barely swing a bat, LaRoche averages .271 with 25 dingers and 86 ribbies per season.

2. Michael Morse, a breakout guy last season with 31 homers, 95 RBI and a .303 average, can play an adequate first base if LaRoche is traded. With hotshot Bryce Harper supposedly on the brink of stardom, there soon may be no room for Morse in the outfield.

3. The Nats must lock up Zimmerman, who becomes eligible for free agency in two years. A native Virginian, Zim wants very much to stay in D.C., but piles and piles of money can affect your desires. Why let other clubs have a shot at a guy whose only negative is a tendency toward injury? Memo to Ted, Mark and GM Mike Rizzo: Act and act now.

Admittedly, the thought of Fielder pounding baseballs hither, thither and yon at Nationals Park is intriguing. In following baseball hereabouts for half a century, the only super sluggers I’ve seen with a “W” on their caps were named Sievers, Killebrew and Howard. Heck, I remember when the left-field wall at old Griffith Stadium was 405 feet from home plate. Each year back then, the original Senators’ home run leader would have 12 or 14 a season.

But anybody who’s salivating over the idea of Fielder landing here should toss cold water on his or her face, pinch an arm and say, “Remember, you’re a grown-up.” Hopefully, anyway.

What it all might come down to is whether the Lerners, Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson decide to continue their long-range plan of building from the ground up or go for postseason glory in a hurry by adding a marquee player such as Fielder.

The first approach makes more sense. Since acquiring the club from Major League Baseball, the Lerners have put together an extremely solid organization - one designed to be a winner and postseason contender year in and year out. Why change the slow-and-steady approach, particularly heading into a year when the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins look like the beasts of the (NL) East?

I’d take something like an 85-77 record in 2012 while hoping for better. Besides, collecting expensive free agents at the drop of a checkbook can backfire badly. If you don’t believe me, ask Dan Snyder and Peter Angelos.

One way or another, the Nats clearly are on the rise. Players such as Morse, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos make them impressive if not yet awesome. If question marks Werth, Chien-Ming Wang and Roger Bernadina contribute, so much the better.

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