Ted Leavengood: The ugly downside of the nouveau riche

The Nationals front office wants to do something about the mess the team finds itself in. But where do they turn? Tom Boswell on Monday made the case that the Nationals have joined the club of elite teams with money enough to buy their way out of the jam.

Washington has been a huge untapped media market for decades and one lonely winning season is all it took to bring baseball fans out of the woodwork in D.C. Average attendance in D.C .is almost 34,000 per game. Fans are coming out because there are recognizable names on the backs of the jerseys. Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and other favorites of young and old alike have created a fan base that is growing exponentially.

Boswell’s solution is on the rent-a-player market. Spend money on Matt Garza or Ricky Nolasco to paper over the leak and keep the fan base engaged. But if spreading the cash liberally is the blueprint for postseason hardware, then the Dodgers should be sitting atop the National League with a comfortable lead. There is nothing worse than the nouveau riche throwing money around to prove they belong at the top.

Can well-traveled pitchers like Garza really be the answer, and what should the Nationals give up to get them? Is a troubled reliever who is under team control for several more seasons - Drew Storen - worth a shaky starter who will be gone by November? July cash rarely buys anything more than a one-year rental and so far the Nationals have had little success with that kind of short-term deal. Draw a circle around Edwin Jackson, Dan Haren and Garza and what have you got?

Haren may have thrown his last pitch in a Nationals uniform and the answer to his departure should not be to go find a new Dan Haren. Ross Ohlendorf gets the first chance to prove he can be part of the solution. He is a great story and it is hard not to pull for the guy. But the problems go deeper than what one new pitcher can fix. Ross Detwiler’s fastball sat at 90-91 on Sunday in the latter innings, more reminiscent of John Lannan than the 94 mph heater he threw so well last season. It may well take more than Ohlendorf.

And then there is the lackluster Nationals offense. The lack of punch has many sources but it may reside ultimately with Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. Neither is getting younger and their most productive days are likely behind them. Where does the power in the lineup come from as they sink back toward age appropriate performance levels?

The obvious answer is Harper. When he rejoins the team he will bat behind Anthony Rendon whose current slash line of .333/.388/.469 is indicative of his potential. Harper, Rendon and Ian Desmond give the Nationals a young core of players whose exceptional talents portend well for the future. But is there enough other offensive support to overtake the Braves this year or next? Ryan Zimmerman is playing Gold Glove defense again, but his bat is still lagging.

The real threat for Mike Rizzo is being pushed into spending some of the new found cash and overpaying for short term gain. Taylor Jordan is pitching exceptionally well at Double-A Harrisburg and Matt Purke, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray look like they may yet live up to their tremendous talent. Sacrificing these young power arms for the sake of 2013 success is a high price not worth paying.

Youth has been the answer so far for Washington and it will continue to be. Young players like Ian Krol have stepped in and provided important underpinning for a bullpen that was near implosion. They add excitement and promise and they should continue to be the answer. The rumor is that Taylor Jordan will get a chance to bring his 96 mph fastball and his 0.83 ERA to Washington this weekend. It seems only fair to give that kind of talent a chance to prove that it can pitch as well as the $13 million alternative.

It is a lot to ask of a young pitcher - maybe too much. But the Nationals have gotten the ninth-best attendance largely on the backs of young players full of hope for the long term. If Washington wants to build on that success, they will hang on to their players with high upside futures rather than auditioning another Jackson in July. Spend the cash on signing new young players. Spend it on keeping them, not on Garza.

Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released in June 2011. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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