The Nationals might have had their most productive day of the year Monday when they broke the bank again at the signing deadline, inking their top five picks to contracts. This came against the industry predictions that the team wouldn’t have the funds to lure players like Matt Purke or Brian Goodwin away from the possibility of re-entering the draft next year and going high in the draft (Baseball America’s Jim Callis said today that if Purke had come back for another year at TCU and pitched the way he did as a college freshman, then he would have gone 1-1 in 2012).
The Nats have continued to invest in the draft, which seems to be where they can get it right. Free agent signings like Jason Marquis, Adam LaRoche and, of course, Jayson Werth? Maybe not so much. But right now the Lerners are showing tremendous faith in Mike Rizzo’s scouting department to find the diamonds in the rough (Danny Espinosa and Jordan Zimmermann are a few easy examples off the top of my head).
This organization’s emphasis has clearly been to build through the draft from day-one of the Rizzo era. And they may have taken their biggest step forward on Monday. In a BA chat Wednesday, Callis mentioned that the Nats now have a top-ten farm system, if not top-five. In today’s game where younger players are being more and more highly valued (and I would argue overvalued), that gives the Nationals a great deal of assets.
Maybe not every one of these picks is going to develop into a superstar. That’s to be expected with developing minor-leaguers. But now the Nats can go out and get a veteran player by building a deal around their minor-league assets. Heck, they can even go out and get a good, young player. Look at what the Phillies did, acquiring Hunter Pence in a trade built around Jarred Cosart. Is he a good prospect? Sure. But he’s not a can’t-miss player. And Pence has been a solid player on a bad Astros team for a number of years now. It’s not out of the question to think that a pitcher like Meyer could be at that level in a year or two.
Some might think this foolish to start trading away our prospects right now. I’m not saying we’re in a “win-now” mode, but I am saying that the Nats now have the flexibility to make more moves. And remember, the Nats don’t need Meyer or A.J. Cole or Purke to be a No. 1 starter. It sure would be nice, but they already have Strasburg and Zimmermann to fit into those roles. The Nats are just looking to fill out the back of their rotation, and they have given themselves tremendous options to do so.
Having a depth of quality starters also increases your team’s chances of having a strong bullpen because if your rotation is clogged, just send Prospect A to the bullpen, where he can go max-effort for an inning or two (as I have been clamoring for with Ross Detwiler for the past few months). Maybe Brad Peacock doesn’t have the secondary stuff to be a true No. 3 starting pitcher on a division-winning ballclub. That’s fine. Send him down to the bullpen and I bet he would be one heck of a set-up man.
The point isn’t that the Nats have suddenly fixed all of their problem. It’s that they have now given themselves the flexibility and the depth to find the solutions to those problems. And that’s something for Nats fans to cheer about. Well, that and this.