“We keep hearing about this window that we have that is closing,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after he traded Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals last week, in moves seen as waving a white flag on the 2018 campaign.
Was it the end of an era though? With four postseason appearances over six years and not a single series win to show for their efforts, did Washington miss out on an opportunity to win with the current nucleus they’d assembled? Did the so-called “window” close?
“That, I could never understand with the talent base that we have,” Rizzo continued.
“With the youth that is being infused into this ballclub, with the veteran presence that we have, we like the team that we have in 2018, we like the future rosters that we have in place beyond that and we think that we’re going to be a competitive ballclub for a long time.”
The Nationals moved Murphy and Adams last week, traded Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley around the non-waiver deadline, and they’re going to (potentially) lose a number of free agents this winter (like Bryce Harper; Ryan Madson; Matt Wieters; Gio Gonzalez; Mark Reynolds + more, potentially), but that also frees up some significant cash if the Nats want to rebuild around what’s left in D.C., which, as Ryan Zimmerman noted this week, is still a pretty impressive collection of talent.
“You know, we’ll see what happens,” Zimmerman said, “... obviously Harp is a free agent, so that’s a different story in itself. But I think Juan [Soto] has shown that he can be a pretty good player at this level. I think [Michael A.] Taylor is an unbelievable player. Adam Eaton’s got some years still here. Another young outfielder in the minor leagues [Victor Robles] who was hurt earlier this year has a chance to come up if he continues to play well this year and kind of show what he thinks he can do in the next five or six years here. We have the third baseman [Anthony Rendon] for another year here. He’s pretty decent. The shortstop [Trea Turner] for a few more years, that’s really good. Obviously [Wilmer Difo is] going to get a chance to play second I would assume quite a bit, and there are a ton of second basemen on the market next year.
“I have a year or so left here. Two big horses at the top of the rotation [in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg] who are here for a while, a closer [Sean Doolittle] that is really good… I can keep going, but yeah, we have a pretty good team still.”
And, as mentioned, they can continue to promote from within and supplement what’s left, (even if they don’t convince Harper to be a one-team kind of guy before he signs elsewhere), through trades and free agency, and, as Rizzo said, the ownership group in D.C. has been willing to spend for their on-field product.
“The Lerner family has given us the resources to facilitate these things,” Rizzo said.
“We had a $200M+ payroll this season, we’re a luxury tax team, and they’ve done everything that they possibly could to keep us competitive. We don’t see that changing. We see this ballclub as a team that has a great big league nucleus, both youthful and experienced, and a farm system and a scouting and player development system that is second to none.”
While there is still hope for the future (and the Nationals haven’t officially given up on the 2018 campaign, though, at this point...) there’s no getting around just how disappointing this season has been.
“You know, any time stuff doesn’t work out,” Zimmerman said, “and you haven’t played like you should and you can make all the excuses you want, injuries, people want to blame Davey, people want to do this, it’s nobody’s fault but the players. We have to play better, and when we don’t win games it’s because of us, it’s not because of Davey or Riz or any of those guys. Those guys get the blame all the time, but at the end of the day if we want to win games we’ve got to play better.
“So far this year we haven’t… we’re not done yet, but it’s nobody’s fault but our own.”
“I think that, again,” Murphy said before leaving the nation’s capital, “... ownership and the front office put together a ballclub in the offseason leading into Spring Training and went and got a manager that I fully believe is the right man for the job here in D.C. and we didn’t play as well as we thought we were going to. Some of it — everybody deals with injuries, some of that maybe Stras has been injured this year. I know that Adam [Eaton] struggled to come off his injury. I really got my teeth kicked in for about the first four weeks I think I came back, and again we had some opportunities that unfortunately we just weren’t able to take as a ballclub.”
“This ranks up there with some of the most disappointing teams that we’ve had,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this week.
“But it’s also — this is my 37th year of professional baseball, so I’ve seen it all. I’ve won the World Series and lost in playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, but to be as inconsistent as we have been is something that doesn’t sit well with Davey or I, and that’s something that we have to fix.”
You’ll notice he said, “we” have to fix. Those of you expecting the Nationals to part ways with Martinez at the end of the season might end up being disappointed.
“Davey’s a great manager,” Rizzo added.
“He’s a vibrant personality. He’s a great Xs and Os guy. He communicates great with the players. He’s exactly the guy that we thought we were hiring this year. He’s upbeat and positive. As you’ve heard Zim say on many occasions, as you heard Murph endorse him yesterday, the players love playing for him. This is far from a manager problem.
“This year’s a disappointment, and if you’re going to judge Davey Martinez on how the players respond to him, just look at last night’s game.”
Hours after they made the trades with the Cubs and Cards, the Nationals went out and beat the NL East’s second-place Phillies, 10-4.
“With the disappointment and the bad feelings because Murph and Matt Adams left,” Rizzo said, “this team still grinded it out and played an extremely tough game and run through the wall for the man. And the endorsement of the players, I think, is what’s important, and he has that in spades down in the clubhouse.”