Washington’s Nationals guaranteed themselves a winning season with their 12-2 win in the second of three with the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night, their seventh straight with a winning record going back to 2012.
Finishing two games above .500, however, was not the plan for this team going into the 2018 season, and a second-place finish in the division they’d won in each of the last two seasons (2016-2017) and four of the last six before this year can’t be viewed as anything except a disappointment.
In an interview before the season finale in Coors Field, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters he liked the core of the Nationals’ roster they’ve assembled, while he acknowledged there was room for improvement.
“Our goal is to always strive to get better,” Rizzo explained. “We feel really good about the organization as a whole, we like the core group of players that we have under control, on the roster. We like the group of talented players in the minor leagues, we like the process that we go through to make decisions and get things done.
“So, I consider this year an anomaly. I think that we’re going to reboot next year, make some adjustments and compete for the National League East again.”
“We had some trying times, but we made it through,” Davey Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman before Game 162 of 162.
“The last two months have been incredible. They played really hard all year. I’ve said it before: They could have gave up a while ago, and they didn’t. And I’m really proud of them.”
Rizzo, reiterating what he’s been saying for a few weeks when the subject of Martinez’s future has come up, said again on Sunday that there hasn’t been any discussion of any changes on the bench for 2019.
“Nothing’s changed,” Rizzo said. “We haven’t considered anything else.”
Beyond that, the Nationals’ GM continued, he thinks Martinez has actually done a good job in his first year as a manager at any level of the game.
“We think he’s got a firm grasp on the clubhouse, and he’s doing a good job in the dugout,” Rizzo said.
“We think he’s getting better each and every day, each and every game. I really like the way the team has responded to him, and I think they’re playing extremely hard for him.”
Both Rizzo and Martinez said that they think the manager’s staff will be back next season as well.
“I want them all back,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Zuckerman. “They worked their butts off all year long, and they’re really good. And they’ve been very positive.
“They’re a big part of keeping this aloft, they really are.”
“I think they’ve grown a good cohesion in what they’ve tried to do,” Rizzo added, “I like the work ethic.
“It’s really second-to-none of any coaching staff I’ve been around. I like the communication skills, and I like the trust factor between the players and the individual coaches.”
There could, of course, be one big change to the lineup in the nation’s capital. Bryce Harper is headed for free agency, but Rizzo said he’s still determined to make a play for the 25-year-old outfielder, who turns 26 this month and has known one organization as a professional.
Harper said earlier this week, after the final home game, that he’d like to return if he’s in the Nationals’ plans, and Rizzo once again said that they are, of course, interested.
“Of course he’s in our plans,” the GM said on Sunday. “He’s a guy that we would love to have.
“He’s a part of our family. He’s a big part of this roster, performance-wise, but as I’ve always said, with these type of deals that you’re talking, you’re not betting on the baseball player, you’re betting on the person and he’s a person we’d like to have with us.”
“He’s made a huge impact on this organization and baseball as a whole,” Rizzo continued.
“I think as a person that I’ve scouted for a long time, a guy that we scouted, drafted, signed, and developed and watched turn into a superstar, that he’s come a long way not only in his baseball performance, but as a person. This guy has grown up right in front of our eyes and we couldn’t be more proud of the person that he’s become.”
Harper finished the 2018 campaign with a .249/.393/.496 line, 34 doubles, 34 home runs, 130 walks, 169 Ks, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored, and 135 wRC+ in 159 games, and 695 plate appearances.
Does Harper know that the Nationals are interested? Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies earlier this week that he thought the 2010 No. 1 overall pick knew how the Nationals felt about him, and he said the same again on Sunday.
“There’s few players I talk to more than Bryce Harper over his career with us,” Rizzo said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. “He’s a guy we have great communication between us.
“I think he’s aware not only of my interest in him, his career and his life, but also ownership’s and the organization’s.”
Would signing Harper to the kind of long-term deal that’s been discussed over the last few years preclude the Nationals from keeping a player like Anthony Rendon, who is potentially headed for free agency after the 2019 campaign?
Rizzo addressed that question when he spoke to the Sports Junkies last week, when he was asked about both Trea Turner and Rendon’s futures.
Turner is, of course, under team control for quite a while at this point, so he brushed that part aside, but Rendon?
“Rendon we have one year left of control on him,” Rizzo said. “I don’t see one precluding us from doing another. It’s all about asset allocation and how you spend your money and you can’t spend your money better than on those two human beings, and like I always say, when you’re talking these long-term, expensive extensions, I like to talk about signing the person more so than the player, and these two people are as good as it gets.”
Will the Nationals bring Harper back? Will they try to lock Rendon up before he ever gets to free agency? It’s going to be an interesting winter after a disappointing summer in D.C.
Martinez and Rizzo seem to have discussed how they’re going to address the outcome of the 2018 campaign.
“It’s the little things that matter and that’s something that we’ll address this winter,” Martinez said last week, “that’s something that we’re going to address in Spring Training. The little things turn out to be big things. So let’s concentrate on doing little things every day ... and when you do little things they become really big things at the end so we’re going to focus a lot on that.”
“We have to work on the small aspects of the game,” Rizzo said on Sunday, “the attention to detail, really embracing and realizing every 90 ft is important, every out is crucial, and I think what it’s really shown us and our fan base, our ownership group, and our front office is that winning in the big leagues is not easy. It’s a difficult task, we’ve made it look pretty easy the last seven years, and that’s a compliment to those guys in the clubhouse, but it is not easy, the margin of error is razor thin and you have to compete pitch to pitch and inning to inning and really look at the game in such a microcosm that you can’t give away outs, you can’t give away 90 ft, because each one is crucial, and those small details, the attention to detail, turns into big things and big things turn into losing streaks and losing streaks turn into you go home at the end of the regular season.”