Not signing Prince is disappointing but it does clear up a couple things that were cloudier just a week ago:
The Lerners are not going to use their vast fortune and position in a wealthy, powerful city to make the Nats the Yankees/Red Sox of the National League. If you had dreams of the Nats being in the Top 5 in payroll every year while making the playoffs with regularity you can probably forget it. Now fans must hope for the "big payroll for a few years at the end of a rebuilding cycle" type of team. That looks like where the team is headed, but I do get the feeling Rizzo will need to keep pushing the Lerners through this.
The Nationals are not going to challenge for a National League East title in 2012. They had more go right for them (lights out bullpen, no major injuries to the Opening Day rotation, LaRoche's injury leading to Morse's career year, Ramos and Espinosa performing well, rookie pitchers doing great at year's end, a decent-season from Laynce Nix) then go wrong (Zimm injury, no Strasburg, Werth's collapse), and they were still lucky to win 80 games. The likely reversal of those three wrongs are big corrections, but some of those rights are likely to reverse as well, and the Nats need to pick up another 7 wins to feel good about WC chances, let alone a division title. That's too much to ask. Wild Card challengers, sure. Division champs, unlikely.
Bryce Harper needs to have immediate impact if the Nats are going to contend* over the next few years. The Nats offense was not good last year. A full year of Zimm and a rebounding Werth will help, but we'll see a lot more of declining Werth in the years to come, not to mention Morse should come back to earth. While I like Ramos and Espinosa, neither are game changers, and right now every other position mentioned is a big black hole. The Nats need at least one more big bat. FA is slim next year and any CF they want isn't going to have a big lineup impact outside a BJ Upton hitting like people think BJ Upton should hit, not how BJ Upton actually does hit. People love Rendon but as always I want to see him in the minors before I decide he's gonna make it. So right now the Nats have one star potential bat and that's Bryce. He should be good, but good is not good enough. He needs to be great and he needs to be great soon.
*serious WS contension
Also we learned something new
Davey Johnsons said this :
"When I was [managing the New York Mets], they never signed
one free agent, so I'm used to playing without going out in the
free-agent market," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Pshaw I said. Then I checked it out. It's pretty much true. They signed Rafael Santana just around when Davey got there then basically no other offensive starter. They did sign some decent pieces, like Ed Lynch, Doug Sisk, Rusty Staub, but very few and no big names. Now, of course Davey makes it sound like they didn't get big names at all. That is misleading. They didn't sign anyone big, but they did trade for them quite often. Keith Hernandez (season before Davey), Gary Carter, Kevin McReynolds, Bob Ojeda, David Cone... So true, but missing the point. Davey's used to not going in the FA market, but he is used to getting infusions of talent from other organizations.