Why Nats & O’s Could Be Looking to Make Double Splash – Part II

Steve O Speak

In Part I I looked at the likelihood of the 28 other teams bidding on either Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder next offseason and the results weren’t promising. Only a handful of teams make sense, and most of them come with a fair share of question marks. Although most would say that it would be improbable for both of the Beltway teams to land a major slugger next year, I don’t think it is impossible.

Why It Makes Sense For the Nationals:

Don’t look now, but the Washington Nationals have actually collected the makings of a very good future team. For at least the next 4 seasons the Nationals have RF Jayson Werth, SS Ian Desmond, 2B Danny Espinosa, C Wilson Ramos, SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Jordan Zimmermann, and RP Drew Storen under team control (and in most cases it is even longer). In addition they could have top prospects CDerek Norris, LF Bryce Harper, and OF/INF Anthony Rendon ready by 2013 (if not sooner). Star 3B Ryan Zimmerman is a free agent after 2013, but he should be in line for an extension ensuring another spot long term. In fact the Nationals even have excess talent at some positions, and would really only be left with holes at 1B and CF. This means the time is now to strike for the Nationals and adding a premium bat like Pujols/Fielder could allow this team to contend as soon as next season.

In terms of money the Nationals are looking pretty good as they have yet to exceed $70 million in payroll since moving to Washington, despite having one of the richest owners, a new ballpark, partial ownership of a TV network, and one of the largest media markets in the country. Given all that the Nationals have going for them they could easily operate at a $100+ million budget, and if this team was contending and selling out games, a $120 million budget would be possible. Right now even with pay raises and Arbitration raises the Nationals should be somewhere in the $60 million range. While they’d need to spend $5-10 million to fill other holes, that would still leave plenty of money for one of the two big first basemen. The Nationals could also add a bit more room to their budget, by then being able to deal incumbent 1B Adam LaRoche. While the Nationals won’t get much return since he is injured, there should be enough of a market for him that they save most of the $9 million they still owe him.

Now the question is who will be the Nationals top target. While Pujols has the bigger name, this latest injury and age could make Fielder the more desirable choice. The Nationals have a long history of working with Scott Boras, so that could give them an advantage in the negotiations as both sides respect each other. Fielder would also give the Nationals a left-handed batter to go along with Harper, to breakup the righties Zimmerman, Werth and Rendon. While there are obvious concerns about Fielder’s longterm viability in the field, he’s shown enough to allow you to believe that he can handle 1st for at least 4-5 more years.

Why it makes sense for the Orioles:

The Orioles might not have a core group of hitters as say the Nats, they aren’t without their options in the lineup. C Matt Wieters, CF Adam Jones, RF Nick Markakis and top prospect SS Manny Machado, give Baltimore a solid group to build around. In addition they have an impressive collection of young arms led by SP Brian Matusz, SP Chris Britton, SP Jake Arrieta, SP Chris Tillman, and top prospect SP Dylan Bundy. Together the Orioles have a pretty good group going forward and if they can add 1-2 key at bats, they can find the complimentary players to put around them.

The Orioles might not have all the financial advantages of say the Nationals, but they have a good number of them. Baltimore has already shown that they can maintain a payroll in the $80-90 million range, and they are projected to be well under that threshold for next year. The Orioles can also clear another big chunk of change for next season if they look to move Jeremy Guthrie and Luke Scott, who are entering their final year of arbitration. If they do that Baltimore will not only have enough money to land one of the two big bats, but they could add a complimentary free agent or two.

With money not an issue the question remains, do the Orioles go for the younger bat in Fielder or the high prestige of Pujols. You could make a case that either player will need the DH role down the road, but I think Pujols makes slightly more sense here than Fielder (though Fielder with that short left-porch could be dangerous). Pujols will likely come at a bit less, in both years and dollars. And his higher prestige could even resonate more with Baltimore’s dedicated but frustrated fan base. Adding Pujols would be a huge boost to morale of both the team and the city and could help lead to this team once again being a legitimate threat in the American League East.






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