Baseball games are still being played. The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are battling for the American League Championship Series, while the Los Angeles Dodgers and NL East champion Atlanta Braves are both vying to win the National League Championship Series. But in the nation’s capital — where politics and decision-making, or lack thereof, reign supreme — the baseball team, the Washington Nationals, are undertaking similar duties.
In a disappointing season full of underperformance and player injuries, we were bound to see shifts in some form or fashion by the time fans start filing into Nationals Park in 2021.
The Nationals have been parting ways with a number of coaches early on in the team’s offseason, including pitching coach Paul Menhart, third base coach Chip Hale, and hitting coach Kevin Long.
Those types of organizational moves aren’t typically headline grabbing. General Manager Mike Rizzo is still in a controlling position and manager Davey Martinez was retained for a three year extension within the last month. Odds are, that’s a good sign for the organization because it isn’t the entire coaching staff that’s been given their walking papers.
But larger staff overhauls don’t typically bode well for teams’ immediate futures. If you recall, Martinez shuffled his staff at the conclusion of the 2019 season, claiming that he hoped to keep the staff sharp. Generally speaking, the firing of coaches comes during tumultuous times for organizations, particularly after a suboptimal season.
With the aging complexion of the Nationals’ roster, it may be true that we’ve seen the peak of this team. I wrote about that in one of my previous entries. I asked the question of whether or not the Nationals’ window has already closed. I ultimately deemed that it had; some staples are locked in longer term, like Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin; other younger players should be around for awhile, like Trea Turner and Juan Soto. But much of the rest of the roster is aging and, as we’ve seen, that decline usually starts in a player’s late-20s. The Nationals are comprised of a roster of plenty of 30-somethings. This is all said without mentioning the depleted farm system.
Now, to add onto that, the team has decided several prominent coaches aren’t getting the job done. Perhaps injecting new personnel into this unit can result in a better season than what we saw in 2020, but it may well be that the Nationals have to use the next few years to thread the line of competing and attempting to restock. Those big contracts to pitchers like Strasburg and Corbin could mean they’re going to be around to compete for another Washington World Series, but it could also mean that they’re ultimately going to be used as trade bait within the next few years in order to replenish the minor league system.
The Nationals are going to try to compete next year, and maybe even the next few years, but it’s going to be a challenging battle to find the right pieces to plug and play while simultaneously trying to ensure some depth in the minors. It leaves me to wonder: Will the new Martinez contract, as well as the new coaching staff, just cement those guys into transitional positions for when the next window opens? Despite Martinez’s extension, we may well see a new skipper at the helm by the time the next Nationals crop is ready to compete. The ship hasn’t sunk, but the yards broke off and waters are getting rougher. Batten down the hatches.