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Should the Washington Nationals Spend $20 Million This Winter Just Because They Have It?

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There are plenty in the Natosphere that want Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals to make a big splash and sign a bunch of free agents this winter to improve the product on the field.

After two-straight 100-loss seasons, I'm sure Rizzo is tempted to make a run at Matt Holliday, John Lackey, etc. But prudence, rather than exuberance, should rule the day.

If you take a good look at the Nats 2010 lineup, the hitters are credible enough to imitate a wild card caliber team.
But should the brass spend $20 million this winter just because they have it?

The answer, after the jump...

If Nyjer Morgan can replicate his season from last year (minus the season-ending injury) and Cristian Guzman has one .300-hitting season left in him, those are decent enough table setters in front of All-Star 3B Ryan Zimmerman and sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham.

The six-seven-eight hitters are going to be a combination of Elijah Dukes in right field, Jesus Flores (once healthy) at catcher, and Ian Desmond at shortstop.

Solid at the plate, and somewhat better in the field with Desmond replacing Guzman at short, and the Guz sliding over to second base.

And as long as "Running" Jim Riggleman doesn't call for a suicide squeeze every other game they should score enough runs to field a fairly competitive offense, just like last season.

Combine that with the prospect of having a couple of really decent trade chips at this year's deadline (Dunn, Willingham), and some of the minor league talent starting to show (Espinosa, Norris), the Nats have a reason to feel somewhat optimistic about the future of the lineup.

The problem is pitching, both starting and relieving.

Rizzo went on record last summer stating a preference for finding two starters to take some of the pressure of youngsters John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Garrett Mock, Collin Balester, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen at the major league level, while not rushing the more highly regarded prospects still in the minors, such as Stephen Strasburg, Aaron Thompson, Brad Meyers, et al.

And there's even more talent in the lower minors, with '09 draftees Trevor Holder and A.J. Morris just coming into their first full season as professionals.

Should the Nats spend $20 million this off-season, just because they have it?

Already one of the lower payrolls in the big leagues, the Nats see at least that much coming off the books this season, as the contracts of Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, Nick Johnson, and Austin Kearns all either expired, were traded, or bought out.

They could even afford to offer Scott Olsen arbitration, get stuck with a 25-year old lefty recovering from shoulder surgery, and still have monopoly money to throw around.

But again, should they?

There are two "Type A" free agent starters available this season, John Lackey and Randy Wolf. Signing either would require the Nats to surrender their second round draft pick in the 2010 draft.

For a club whose best players are still several years from their prime, this doesn't seem to be prudent to me.

There are a bunch of "Type B" starters available that might be interesting, costing the Nats a little less, a second round pick. But most of these players are either injury cases (Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, Carl Pavano), old (Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte), of questionable pedigree (Doug Davis, Braden Looper, Jason Marquis, Joel Piniero), or just bat-guano crazy (Vicente Padilla).

Do the Nats give up a chunk of the future to acquire any of these gentlemen? There's not a name in there that doesn't scare me to one degree or another.

And if the Type B's frighten, you can imagine what the rest of the list looks like. Reclamation projects, one-hit wonders, and former Nats (Odalis Perez or Daniel Cabrera, anyone?).

My advice to Rizzo? If you want to take a chance rolling the dice on Doug Davis, Joel Piniero or Jarrod Washburn, and can do it reasonably, via con dios.

Otherwise, let the stable of young guys that you have fight it out again this season, bolster your bullpen with the rest, wait for Jordan Zimmermann to recover from Tommy John surgery and Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen to arrive next season, THEN supplement with a veteran starter.

Just because you have $20 million to spend, doesn't mean you should.