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Nats keep a clinched fist around its cash
Washington's front office is remaining steadfast in not overpaying for marquee free agents.

Date published: 1/11/2007


WASHINGTON--At the height of baseball's offseason spending frenzy, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden took stock of the market, his rebuilding team and shuddered.

If the market--highlighted by a $136 million deal for former National Alfonso Soriano--softened in January, Washington might be able to unearth a few bargains, he thought.

It hasn't happened.

The market remains, in Bowden's words, "very unfriendly," and the Nationals--with a starting rotation that now consists of right-hander John Patterson and up to a dozen journeyman, former prospects and rookies vying for four other spots--have distanced themselves from the dollars flowing toward free agents.

"I think our entire pitching staff this year will make less than Gil Meche," Bowden said.

Meche, of course, is the 28-year-old right-hander with the 55-44 career record who signed a five-year, $55 million deal last month with the Kansas City Royals.

And even if the team had that kind of cash earmarked to throw around this winter, Bowden said he'd be hanging on to his wallet.

"I think what this market has done which is unique to any market I ever remember is there are a lot of mediocre players that have been paid as if they had been stars," Bowden said.

"If we had had the money for this offseason, we probably would be sitting here with the same result we have right now anyway in terms of the free agent market," he said. "I don't think there are any contracts out there that we look at and say, 'Oh, if we had the money, we would've paid that and given that many years.'"

Not Ted Lilly's four-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs. Not Jason Schmidt's three-year, $47 million contract with the Dodgers. Certainly not Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million agreement with the Giants.

The Nationals have signed nearly two dozen minor league free agents this winter, focusing on small steps toward rebuilding the franchise, and yesterday added four prospects from the Dominican Republic.

Seventeen-year-old Randy Almonte, a 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher, hard-throwing but raw right-hander Marcos Frias, catcher Ricardo Martinez and left-hander Francisco Vizcaino aren't likely to see Washington for years, if ever, but they mark another step in the team's development of a once-moribund farm system.

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