THOMAS BOSWELL

It's time for the Nats to think big

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

After the Washington Nationals sign Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth and Carlos Pena this winter for $40 million a year in new contracts, while watching $23 million a year drop off their 2010 books with the exodus of Adam Dunn, Cristian Guzman and Matt Capps, the team should be in the playoffs next year. Then, in 2012, with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper on hand, they'll win the World Series.

Right?

"Maybe. But we could also win the World Series next year," departing team President Stan Kasten said. "Once you're in the playoffs, you never know."

Maybe the last home game of a 90-loss year makes everybody punchy. But someday, if the Nats are ever going to maximize the potential of their top-10 market and if they intend to capitalize on the window through 2016 during which Strasburg is under team control and Harper is reaching his potential, then they have to think big.

The idea of bold moves and great success can't always evoke a sardonic that-isn't-going-to-happen-here laugh.

For the Nats, there's no time like now. Conditions for bravery are never perfect. But sometimes they are good enough to take the leap. This winter's free agent market is adequate at the Nats' positions of greatest need. If not Cliff Lee, then Ted Lilly or even Carl Pavano. If not Werth, then Carl Crawford. If not Pena, then Paul Konerko or crawl back to Dunn and beg him to re-sign.

Go ahead, say it: "Oh, those stars won't sign with the Nats."

There has to be a first time.

When do those who run baseball in Washington decide to dare to be great? Or at least take the risk to be much better than 68-90?

Will the Nats sit on their hands and wait, collecting revenue-sharing and TV rights cash from the Orioles, keeping a low payroll and being one of the sport's most profitable teams? If you can draw 22,600 per game in Washington, at quality-product prices, just by opening the gates and saying, "Game tonight," why try harder?

Kasten, who quit last week, has said repeatedly this summer the time to begin acting decisively is right now. When you have a rookie class of Strasburg, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Roger Bernadina and Wilson Ramos, and then Jordan Zimmermann, back from elbow surgery, hits his old 96-mph high-water mark in his most recent start, what are you waiting for?

In previous late-September evaluations here, it has been noted that the Nats constantly think small. They've never reached the major league staffing levels, in any part of the organization, that you would expect of a team with healthy revenues and black ink.


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