While the 2012 and 2014 Washington Nationals followed up on NL East division titles with disappointing seasons in 2013 and 2015, under Davey Johnson and Matt Williams, respectively, it didn’t seem to concern GM Mike Rizzo or the current manager, Dusty Baker, when each was asked what they needed to do to avoid having the same thing happen in 2017.
Baker, in the first year of his two-year deal with the Nationals, led the team to a 95-win season, but another NLDS loss, failing to advance past the Division Series.
He told reporters last month, however, that he didn’t worry about his team coming out flat in his second season in D.C., or the sting of their NLDS loss lingering.
“I don’t think that’s lingering at all, actually,” he said.
“I just think that’s how it’s come out and how it’s appeared. I mean, last year they had a bunch of injuries. That’s different than coming out flat. I’m not worried about my team coming out flat because I prepare them. I don’t worry about negative thoughts and negative occurrences. I just try to build on where we were, instead of going backwards worrying about things.”
“We’ve got a good team that won 95 games last year,” Rizzo added, when he too was asked how to avoid a letdown.
“I think we’re better team this year — that we’ll go into this season better than we did last year, so we feel that we’re a confident group with a good team and a deep roster. And we feel that we’ll have really successful season this year and our goal is to defend the National League East title, go into the playoffs and the ultimate goal is to always win the World Series.”
The Nationals aren’t done building their roster for the 2017 campaign, of course, there are still, potentially, bench spots and bullpen holes to be filled.
Though the options to add a closer from outside the organization are dwindling, Baker talked about what he looks for in a late-inning reliever whether it comes from outside of the organization or in-house.
“No. 1, a guy who throws strikes,” he said. “A guy that doesn’t walk people. A guy that’s unfazed, or at least the appearance of being unfazed if he gets into trouble, because a lot of times your closer, you’re going to live and die with him. Usually the closer is going to rescue somebody else, nobody usually has to rescue him and sometimes you don’t know until he fails and then you have to see how he handles failure.
“Look for a guy that has the ability to forget yesterday. You’ve got to have a guy that’s kind of — a little on the crazy side. Most of the great closers I know are a little on the crazy side, or at least different. I’ve played with some good ones and they’re all different, because to try to get that last three outs out of a team is very difficult.
“We’re taught as hitters not to make the last out of the game, but somebody has to make the last out of the game. I heard that from the time I came up, ‘Don’t make the last out of the game. There’s something to that.”
When he spoke to reporters at Winterfest early last month, Rizzo said he knows there is still work to be done in the bullpen and on the bench.
“We’re going to look at all different aspects of it,” he explained.
“Bullpen construction, roster construction. There’s a lot of — especially in the bullpen market, there are a lot of different ways you can do it. We’ve got a lot of different ideas and a lot of different strategies to employ. It’s still early in the offseason and we’re going to cast our net and acquire the best guy that fits for us.”
There’s still time before Spring Training, but it’s getting closer. Will the Nationals go into the season with the closer’s role up for grabs?
Will they be able to find a deal as Spring Training approaches? Will they add a couple of bench bats? Try to re-sign Stephen Drew? Do they trust in Wilmer Difo as the utility man? Is starting depth an issue in your mind after the Nationals traded two close-to-major-league-ready arms in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez in the deal that brought Adam Eaton to the nation’s capital? Will they extend Baker beyond next season?