After D.C. GM Mike Rizzo signed a 5-year extension in October 2010, more than a month before he inked Jayson Werth to a 7-year/$126 million dollar deal, the Nats' General Manager told reporters that though, "There really hasn't been a shortage of my stamp on the organization," since he'd taken over for former GM Jim Bowden in March 2009, now that he'd signed on for five more years, Rizzo said, "It will be my baby, and my fingerprints will be all over the organization, more so than they are already." When Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell quoted Rizzo describing the kind of team the former scout, scouting director and assistant general manager had put together for 2011, he talked about having a team that, "'Sabermetrically,'" would be, "'...about equal in run production. But our run prevention should be way up."
Rizzo says he's pleased with the Nats' defense, but it was run production, and especially with runners in scoring position that Rizzo suggested was the problem so far this season in FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal's article earlier this week entitled, "Nats' Rizzo not looking for scapegoats", in which the Nats' GM is quoted saying, "'We’re playing terrific baseball except for the fact that we’re struggling with runners in scoring position.'" A few writers have already pointed out the obvious fact that the Nats are simply not hitting (2nd-worst team AVG .229, second-worst OPS .633, and worst BABIP .276), in addition to struggling to hit with RISP, but Rizzo says he's happy with the way the players are being prepared by manager Jim Riggleman and hitting coach Rick Eckstein, telling Mr. Rosenthal that Eckstein, "...prepares players well. They work extremely hard. It’s up to the players to perform."
Sure the team misses Ryan Zimmerman, as the FOXSports.com writer noted, and the FOF™ was included on ESPN.com's Jayson Stark's list of the five biggest, "Injuries to indispensable players have impacted pennant races," entitled, "Ouch, that really hurts!":
"Obviously, the Nationals aren't built to win this year, with or without him. But they ARE built to be a team on the rise. So until their third baseman returns in about three weeks, their assignment is mostly to see how much water they can tread."
The Nationals also miss the productive Adam LaRoche they were promised. He was strong defensively, but unable to let throws loose without pain, and eventually admitted that his shoulder was worse than he could play through. Rizzo says he is happy with the progress of the young players on their roster like Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Ramos, 23, has .255/.339/.418 slash and 47 CS%. Desmond, 25 and in his second full season, has a .230/.259/.368 slash line after 44 games and 187 plate appearances, Espinosa, 24, has a .200/.301/.394 slash after 49 games and 195 plate appearances. Their struggles were not unanticipated.
"A switch-hitter that can run, steal bases and we believe that [Espinosa] has a chance to be a Gold-Glove-caliber middle infielder. We're excited about the two, there's going to be growing pains, we understand that, and we've told Espinosa exactly what I told Desmond at this time last year, 'You worry about your defense. You worry about preparation for the game, what you do on offense, we're going to be very, very patient with you and we know there's going to be growing pains and we're willing to grind through those.'"
Did anyone tell Jayson Werth this is how it would start? Rizzo admitted that he "knowingly" gave the Phillies' right fielder "...an above-market deal in years and money to lure a highly sought-after free agent to a last-place team," as SI.com's Joe Lemire wrote in a profile on Rizzo entitled, "Previously unknown Rizzo turning heads at winter meetings", and as Werth said yesterday, as recorded in Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore's post game article entitled, "Nationals vs. Brewers: Milwaukee completes sweep, 6-4":
"We have a lot of talent. We just need to keep going. A lot of these guys are kind of still learning. We’ve got to make sure they continue to develop, regardless of if we’re winning or losing. I think that’s important for the future of this club. But things need to change."
No one sold NatsTown or Werth on a playoff team, the Nationals were sold once again as a continuing work in progress, one that should peak in a year or two at which point you'll know if the 100-loss seasons, long summers, error-filled failures and painful disappointments were worth it. Are the Nats going to continue to make bold big-market moves like they did with Werth and continue to outspend the league in the draft when they aren't picking no. 1 overall? Those are big questions that will be answered this June/August and next winter.
Jayson Werth knew what he was getting into. He said as much when he signed, comparing the Nationals now to the Phillies he signed with in the winter of 2006 that were poised for success with young homegrown stars like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. Of course, the '06 Phillies finished second in the NL East as they had for three seasons before that and then went on to make four-straight playoff appearances one of which resulted in a World Series Championship.
Werth rather cryptically hinted after yesterday's loss that he has ideas for ways in which the team can improve, as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reported, "'I’ve got some ideas obviously, and some thoughts, none I really want to share with the world,' Werth said. 'I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on around here.'" Was he talking about the roster, the coaching staff, the front office? Things, as Werth said, need to change, but what?
There's no one in the system coming to save the team (Bryce Harper is not coming this season, Chris Marrero may or may not be ready, but he's no savior), any trades they're likely to make will be bring back prospects or the sort of major-league-ready talent the Nats are suffering with now as Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos, and Jordan Zimmermann experience growing pains. That's clearly the big issue now, no plan B if the top talent in the system faltered since they were already in the majors without reasonable replacements anywhere close...and that isn't a surprise either.
If Zimmerman, LaRoche, Espinosa, Ramos or Werth went down it was clear there was no one in the organization who could replace them. There are some interesting pitchers in the system should any of the current starters falter, but none that will change the Nationals' fortunes immediately, and the Nats' pitching at the major league leave (until recently) had been a bright spot. Losing Zimmerman, losing all but LaRoche's defense, having Morse, Rick Ankiel, Matt Stairs and the Nats' young starters struggling offensively through the first two months have been the biggest blows to the Nationals' success. No one said Phase II was going to be easy...