Yes, the big league budget and draft budget are two different things, but you can't over-fund one and under-fund the other. For a total of somewhere around $9 million, the Nationals could have signed Crow last Summer and likely first pick Stephen Strasburg this Summer. Those two pitchers would have formed a young combo that could have moved quickly through the minor league system and probably been pitching in the majors in 2011. The Nationals would have had 40% of a stellar starting rotation and they would have been under team control for years to come. Oh, well!
So, back to our Winter shopping. In case nobody has noticed, the Nationals offense was hideous in 2008. By now, we all know and acknowledge that. What some have failed to miss is that the Nationals pitching wasn't much better. The offense ranked 27th out of 30 teams in average and the pitching ranked 24th out of 30 teams in ERA. In general, pitching wins, so let's focus on getting some quality pitchers in here.
The Nationals are able to sign a Type-A free agent and not lose their first round pick, because it falls in the top 15. So, they would instead, lose their second round pick, which would hurt, but not as much.
Even if the Nationals had passed on A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia, Derek Lowe is still sitting out there. He's pricey and would likely cost about $15 million per year and our second round pick, so let's not go there.
The Nationals could have gone after Jamie Moyer and likely had a shot at getting him for something around two years and $18 million. The Phillies got him back for even less. Moyer would have eaten innings - he fell 2/3 of an inning shy of 200 last season - and kept the Nationals in ballgames. Plus, he would have served as a mentor and second pitching coach to the young pitchers on the staff. Just ask Cole Hamels how much Myers has helped him.
Braden Looper is another innings eater, who is still out there on the market. He'll likely fall into the $10 or $11 million range. Need more innings? How about Oliver Perez? The left-hander threw 194 innings last season for the Mets and should be coming in right around the $7 million mark. In other words, the Nationals could ring up Looper and Perez for right around $18 million for 2009. Looper would likely be looking for three years, while Perez may want just a year or two. Not a huge commitment to two guys who can give you some innings and tide you over until some young pitchers start to hit the major league level. The only downside is that Perez would cost you a second round pick, since the Mets offered him arbitration.
What about a combination of Looper and Livan Hernandez? That would likely set you back about $16 or $17 million and wouldn't cost a draft pick. Or maybe you roll the dice a little and put in a bid on Kenshin Kawakami, which would cost you around $3 million.
If the Nationals have a couple million bucks left, they could potentially add a reliever to help out their bullpen. Takashi Saito could conceivably close for the Nationals and might be available for just a year; two at the max. Greg Gagne, Joe Nelson and Rudy Saenez would also be relatively inexpensive options.
If the Nationals can simply stay healthy, they'll be a much better team in 2009 than they were in 2008. Pitching wins and there are ways to put together a competitive staff that won't cost you draft picks, a ton of money or excessively long commitments. Ask the Rangers how that ten-year deal on Alex Rodriguez worked out. Everybody saw it coming that the Rangers would be a one-man band because of the huge contract that A-Rod collected and he wouldn't have much of a supporting cast. The Rangers should be sending the Yankees a very nice Christmas card each and every year for helping them out of that contract. If they're not careful, the Nationals will be in much the same shape with Mark Teixeira. He's a great player and seeing him in the Nationals lineup would be a great opportunity, but not if it's at the expense of upgrades that this team is going to need in other areas.
Stick with the basics. Don't waste draft picks, let young players mature and be sure to take care of your own. Ryan Zimmerman will be needing a long-term commitment soon and that should come before any monkey-on-the-back deal that's extended to a player whose salary could make big bucks for Zimmerman an impossibility down the road.