The Washington Nationals won 96 games last season. They won the NL East for the second time in three seasons. They brought postseason baseball back to the nation's capital for just the second time since 1933. They also lost in the NLDS for the second time in three seasons. Strong as the regular season was, the postseason loss to the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants was disappointing.
As they turned from 2014 to preparing for 2015, the Nationals made a deal that sent Ross Detwiler to Texas in return for Rangers' prospects Chris Bostick and Abel de Los Santos. Washington GM Mike Rizzo then got involved in talks for Wil Myers and ended up as the third team in a three-way deal with the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays, acquiring prospects Trea Turner and Joe Ross in return for Steven Souza and minor league pitcher Travis Ott.
Between those two trades, Rizzo talked to reporters about his plans for the offseason.
"We have a lot of options," he said.
"We can go a lot of different ways. We can stand pat and go with a team that we think is a very competitive ballclub. We can make a few tweaks here and there and I think that we're certainly going to address our depth both with pitching and with our position players."
"We've taken a step towards deepening our minor league system with the Detwiler trade. We'll continue to make trades that not only help us win in 2015, but give us a chance beyond, but that was a prime example of how to use a veteran major league asset to acquire players that will help you down the road."
Will Rizzo use any more of the Nationals' "veteran major league" assets to acquire the second baseman the Nats are rumored to be after this winter?
If Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister or Tyler Clippard don't sign long-term deals, will one or more of them end up getting dealt before the winter is over?
#Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked about Winter Meetings, dealing Detwiler & more at #NatsFest. We asked about A.J. Cole... pic.twitter.com/cT7LkTldcU— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) December 13, 2014
"There's a reason that we're in the position we are in," Rizzo explained, "because of what we've done in the past. We've put ourselves in this position to be very flexible on what we do. We have a good team now that we now can compete to play meaningful games in October and we're going to take that and run with it."
The National League's 2014 Manager of the Year, Matt Williams, will take the roster the Nationals' GM gives him to Spring Training and start all over again after a successful run in his first year on the bench in the majors. It didn't, of course, end the way that he'd hoped.
"It always ends so abruptly when you don't win, so it's disappointing," Williams told reporters last month. "We had a chance to get to the playoffs and wanted to go further and it didn't happen. At that point you understand the playoff series and understand the season as a whole, I would rate it as a success for us. It was a good learning experience for our guys moving forward and hopefully we get a chance to get back and take the next step and hopefully beyond that. For 29 teams it all ends way too fast, we want to be the last ones standing at some point."
Williams inherited a team in the midst of a window of contention, and with a number of core players headed for free agency after this season, he'll start his second season as skipper in another win-now campaign.
There was a letdown in 2013 after the Nationals' somewhat surprising run to the NL East crown in 2012. Williams, a veteran of 17 major league seasons as a player, was asked what he learned from his first season as manager?
"Just that you had an opportunity to get there," he said.
"We want to be fully ready and fully on time when we get there, if we get there again. Our objective is to get back and play meaningful games in September and October again and see if we can take that step. You look at playoff series, they are quick series. A team gets hot and you can do anything. If you're not, then you can go home. We want to make sure that if we do get a chance to go back there, that we are prepared and ready to give it another try."
But first they have to earn another postseason berth, and Williams was clear that he's not looking too far ahead, but instead concentrating on being ready for the first day of Spring Training when it starts all over again. He's not letting himself look beyond that.
"You can't, you just can't," Williams said. "You can't look ahead and say 'Boy, we're going to get back there next year.' We have to prepare. We have to prepare for Opening Day and then Game 2 and beyond. Our guys do that, we don't have a problem with our focus on an everyday basis. The first day of Spring Training will be in preparation for Opening Day and trying to win that game. If we do good, bad or indifferent, we'll look to Game 2."