No one who watched the Washington Nationals in 2019 is really going to forget how bad the bullpen was for most of the season, though GM Mike Rizzo did land a few relievers at the trade deadline, one of whom was on the mound when they won the World Series. It’s also easy to celebrate the work Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez did to help the team bounce back from a 19-31 start and help his club get over the postseason “hump”... while forgetting the fact that there was plenty of talk just a couple months earlier about the manager’s job security. Winning it all in the end erases an awful lot that came beforehand.
Remember when the following stories were big ones in the nation’s capital this past season:
Trevor Rosenthal’s Struggles:
A scout in the organization saw Trevor Rosenthal throw in a showcase the veteran reliever set up to show teams he was fully-recovered from Tommy John surgery and the scout was so impressed that he excitedly called GM Mike Rizzo and recommended signing the right-hander forthwith.
“We hung up the phone about three hours later we had Rosenthal signed,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last Spring.
Rosenthal, who got a 1-year/$7M deal from the Nationals, made it back to the majors, but struggled mightily in his time in D.C., giving up of eight hits, 15 walks, and 16 runs (22.74 ERA) in 6 1⁄3 innings, over which opposing hitters put up a .333/.605/.333 line against the reliever before he was released by the team in June.
“We felt it was in his best interest,” Rizzo said of the decision to release Rosenthal, “because he’s worked so damn hard to get himself back on track to give him another chance in the big leagues, and we did, and when it didn’t work out we brought him into the office and told him of our decision. He understood it, took it like a professional, and we wish him nothing but the best.”
Rosenthal went on to sign with the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers last season before he agreed on a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals this winter which pays him $2M if he pitches in the majors in 2020.
Moving On From Bryce Harper:
One of the big questions for Washington’s baseball club last winter was, “Are the Nationals really going to go forward with two early 20s outfielders and the oft-injured Adam Eaton in the outfield?” C’mon, they just couldn’t let Bryce Harper walk, and expect things to be fine, right? How would they ever recover from losing the face of their franchise if they did really let him go?
Well, the 2010 No. 1 overall pick ended up signing on with the Philadelphia Phillies (on a 13-year/$330M deal), and the Nationals, with an outfield that on most days featured Juan Soto (.282/.401/.548 line, 32 doubles, and 34 homers in 150 games and a total of 659 PAs in a 4.8 fWAR season), Victor Robles (.255/.326/.419 line, 33 doubles, and 17 home runs in 155 games and 617 PAs in a 2.5 fWAR rookie campaign), and Eaton (.279/.365/.428 line, 25 doubles, seven triples, and a career-high 15 home runs, in 151 games and 656 PAs in a 2.3 fWAR campaign), went on to win the World Series with Soto, Robles, and Eaton all playing big roles in the team’s success.
Harper put up a solid .260/.372/.510 line with 36 doubles and 35 HRs in 157 games and 682 plate appearances in a 4.6 fWAR campaign for the Phils in the first year of his 13-year deal.
We should also note that Harper, asked by The Athletic’s Jayson Stark in October about the Nationals’ run to the World Series, said, “I’m so happy for them. You know how hard it is to get into the postseason and win games. For them to be able to put it together this year the way they have, it’s an amazing thing.”
Davey Martinez’s Future:
Once the Nationals won it all, and brought a World Series championship back to D.C. for the first time since 1924, Davey Martinez was feted in the nation’s capital, but GM Mike Rizzo did not let anyone forget what was written and said about the second-year skipper a few months earlier, when Washington got off to a 19-31 start over the first 50 games.
“They were shoveling dirt on him in May, now he’s the World Champ. Congrats, Davey,” the GM said at celebration which followed the Nationals’ 74-38 finish to the regular season and their wins in the Wild Card Game, NLDS, NLCS, and World Series.
“They counted us out,” Rizzo went on. “They knocked us down. We had injuries early, we didn’t perform like we wanted to, but not one person pointed a finger, no anonymous quotes, no clubhouse lawyers, no backbiting. Loyalty. And that’s why we’re here today.”
It’s probably worth noting that coming off of their World Series win, both Rizzo and Martinez are in the final years of their respective deals with the organization. Will they get extensions before the start of the 2020 campaign as a reward for accomplishing what they did?
Washington’s relief corps finished the first half of the 2019 campaign with an NL-worst 6.08 ERA, a 4.72 FIP (4th worst), a .277 BAA (the worst in the NL), and 1.55 WHIP (also a National League worst). Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo made some additions at the trade deadline, but it was really only one of the three relievers he added to the mix that played a big role in their success down the stretch (Daniel Hudson), while the other two arms he acquired, Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elías, struggled, Strickland with home runs (2.22 HR/9 in 24 1⁄3 IP overall in 2019) and Elìas with injuries.
After the All-Star Break, Nationals’ relievers put up a 5.24 ERA (2nd-worst in the NL), a 5.19 FIP (3rd-worst), a .251 BAA (4th-highest), and a 1.40 WHIP (5th-highest). Not great, but the results were good enough, and during the postseason Martinez mixed and matched, used his starters in relief when he had to, and made it work.
Luckily, the bullpen is at the top of the list this winter as Rizzo and Co. go about the work of building the roster for 2019 ... and they’ll land that impact arm any day now... whether it’s a reunion with Hudson or another direction. Any day now. Any day...
The %&$^$*%!!!! MASN Dispute:
Yes, it’s still going, and though there is promise that it might actually end one day soon we’re not counting the $ the Nationals are due to receive until the Orioles/MASN cut that check... and finally, FINALLY, end this dispute, because seriously, why isn’t this thing over with already???