Are you disappointed in how the Nationals’ offseason went?

So many seem to be, suggesting that the team’s relative inaction was the result of an ongoing malfeasance of management that still carries the stink of the Jim Bowden era.

But really, that isn’t true at all. All the non-deals left the team better off in the long run. Why wait all these years for the fruits of the farm system to ripen and then block their entry to the major leagues?

For reasons I don’t understand, some major leaguers with average-or-slightly-above histories have been become pearls of great price for the Nationals. Not long after the end of the season, the team made an offer to the Rockies’ Jorge de la Rosa that was much larger than what Colorado offered.

And yet he still signed with the Rockies.

De la Rosa is 29. He will be well into his 30s when the Nationals’ kids learn their craft. In seven seasons, he has won just two more games than he lost and has a 5.02 ERA. And please don’t buy into all the “Mile High” warped stats claptrap. His career road ERA is 4.76, just a little better than his home 5.02 mark.

He strikes out eight batters per nine innings. Wow. Cool. He also walks 4.5 batters per nine.

Who would he have replaced? John Lannan? Lannan is four years younger but has pitched just 100 innings fewer than de la Rosa. He only strikes out 4.6 batters per nine innings but only walks 3.3. His WHIP (base runners per inning) is 1.41, less than de la Rosa’s 1.52.

And yet de la Rosa signed a two-year deal for $21.5 million with a possibility of a third year totaling $32 million. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post reported that de la Rosa left $30 million on the table when he turned down the Nationals’ offer.

Lannan will probably make $1 million or so in 2011. Are de la Rosa’s extra 3.4 strikeouts per nine-innings worth $10 million more per year? Would he really give the Nationals a better chance to win than Lannan?

The stats say no. He just looks better on the mound.

Former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke almost became a National. The Nationals agreed to ship four of their kids—a package that likely included Jordan Zimmermann and Danny Espinosa—and then offered Greinke a long-term extension, but he said no.

He wanted to play for a winner, like…Milwaukee?

At 26, Greinke is the right age to build around, but is he really a No. 1 starter? Over his seven major league seasons, he has a 3.82 ERA and a 9.1/2.3/7.6 slash line. But those include a magnificent 2009 season when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA.

But in his other six years, Greinke’s record is very pedestrian at 44-59, 4.32. Last season—the season after his Cy Young Award—he went just 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA.

Livan Hernandez—who I am not suggesting has the same talent as Greinke—also won 10 games last season but with a lower 3.66 ERA. And J.D. Martin, who may not even make the team in 2011, had a lower ERA in 2010 then Greinke.

Would the Nationals have been that much better if Greinke and de la Rosa topped the rotation in 2011 while costing the Nationals almost $30 million a year?

If nothing else changes, the Nationals will likely start the season with Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Yunesky Maya and either Ross Detwiler or Livan Hernandez in the rotation.

Greinke and de la Rosa have averaged a combined 22 wins over a 162-game season. Last season, Hernandez and Lannan—the two most likely to lose their spot in the rotation—won 18 games.

The Nationals would have been much poorer with Greinke and de la Rosa but not that much better.

Carlos Pena also snubbed the Nationals and took his .196 batting average to Chicago. Derrek Lee, the man Pena replaced, also bypassed Washington and now the Baltimore Orioles have a .260 hitting first baseman.

Last season, the two combined to average .229-23-82. The Nationals had to “settle” for Adam LaRoche, who is four years younger than Lee and two years younger than Pena. He “only” hit .261-25-100.

Let’s see, who else? Oh yes, the Nationals also didn’t sign Carl Pavano, who is 34 and has averaged a 5.06 ERA since 2005.

And of course, they didn’t get Matt Garza, who was traded to the Chicago Cubs for the equivalent of Jordan Zimmermann, Derek Norris, Danny Espinosa and a lesser weight prospect.

After the season, several reports suggested the Nationals could get Garza for Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond and a prospect. That made sense.

What Garza would have cost the Nationals is madness.

Yes, it is frustrating that the Nationals’ past is hindering its future. I have actually supported the team’s build-from-within-and-why-spend-money-now-when-it-won’t-matter philosophy. I never considered that it would have caused the team to become caustic to so many players.

The roster as currently constituted should be good enough to win 73-75 games this season, a few less if Danny Espinosa and Mike Morse falter, a few more if they succeed and Stephen Strasburg returns in August.

Come this time next year, the Nationals should be able to sign whoever they want if the dollars are right. I doubt the free agent class of 2011/2012 is going to go “ooh” and “yuck” when the team comes calling.

But don’t feel bad for the Nationals as spring training approaches. It was addition by subtraction. They got better by not signing all those players.


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