The dreams and excitement of pulling in a big free agent that would have defined the Nationals for years are over. Now, they must deal with reality.
Before we get into the meat of this thing, you are going to have to pardon me. I am on the phone on hold trying to get a human to help me out with an order I made. Don't tell my editor. We'll talk Washington Nationals in a-- oops, hold on.
"Yes ... yes. Yeah I want to cancel my order. Yes ... that is right. A Prince Fielder Nationals jersey. Yes, you heard right he signed with the Tigers ... oh. Oh glory days for you, you are from Detroit. Yes ... good for you. Yes. Now just cancel my order. Press whatever little button you have there and ... yes. Thank you."
Sorry about that. I suspect there are probably more than a few premature orders of that nature being cancelled all over the DMV. And why not? You'd look pretty ridiculous wearing a Prince Fielder Washington Nationals home white when he was plucked out of seclusion by the phantom team of the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday afternoon to the tune of nine-years and $214 million.
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That is an expensive bullet for the Nationals to dodge and dodge they did -- appropriately. Fielder would have been a game-changing, division-changing player that would have sealed up the Nationals first base situation for years, would have turned the lineup into the most dangerous lineup in the NL East with his power bat, assured protection for players like Ryan Zimmerman and/or Jayson Werth, brought in numerous new fans and revenue and would have announced the ascendency of the Washington brand. General Manager Mike Rizzo once said of Fielder, "He’ll help any club he’s with." Indeed. Unfortunately it will not be with the Nationals. That price was a bit too steep. I'd rather Washington take nine years and $214 million to fix all the quirks in Metro than bring in one solitary player.
It was a bullet dodged and money and time saved. So why do I and so many of the Nats faithful feel like we didn't get anything for Christmas?
I think it is because after "being in it" for so long and not getting anything out of it, we suddenly realize what we are left with: the real 2012 Washington Nationals. No more dreams of power line ups and threatening the Philadelphia Phillies. Reality bites hard and it has come back with a vengeance. Sort of like Jaws 4: The Revenge, but instead of a shark the Nationals have Adam LaRoche as starting first baseman on Opening Day. They have no true center fielder, lead-off hitter or power threat. The threat of the 2011 Nationals corpse-like lineup stepping up to the plate again is still very real. Ace Stephen Strasburg is on a pitching limit while Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen remain the only real suitable relievers in the pen. The Nationals have gone from the team of hope back to a team full of more questions than answers with under a month until Spring Training.
You can get a sense why some are disheartened. It's like going to college for four years, graduating and then hitting the real world. You need to deal with it just like the Nationals are going to have to deal with life without Prince Fielder. To do that there are a couple more things (yes, more) they will have to think about whether they want to or not. Stuff like these things, barring anymore major trades or deals:
Michael Morse - The idea of having Morse and Fielder's bats in the lineup was delicious, but now that Fielder is no longer in the equation, the pressure is on Morse now like a submarine at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. He is now the team's power bat and outfielder/first baseman. It is essential for Morse to duplicate his 2011 success. If not, the Nationals are in for a world of hurt. It won't be easy. Opponents now know to watch for him.
Adam LaRoche - Poor guy. He will be playing on a team that tried to replace him while he was still on it, and he will be under the microscopic sights of disgruntled fans who will be mumbling Fielder's name and will let LaRoche know every time he strikes out. The Buck Commander is going to have to be strong coming back from labrum surgery and bypass his traditional slow start to the season to have any chance at helping the Nationals.
Bryce Harper - The loss of Fielder probably means the Nationals will want their top prospect in the Opening Day lineup to add some power and add butts to the seats. They really need to avoid this temptation. It isn't just a question of Harper hardly having Major League at-bats. It is also a question of starting his clock. They will be better served giving him more seasoning and starting his clock around June or so. Start it now, and the time of his free agency comes sooner. That would make the New York Yankees happy.
The Phillies are the team to beat, the Atlanta Braves are always tough and the Miami Marlins beefed up and got better even though they are a last-place team. The road to the postseason through the NL East will be a tough one. It's not unconquerable, but without a threat like Fielder, the Nationals are going to have to work extra hard and over their heads to make any October impact in 2012.
If only the Nats played the New York Mets 89 games a year.