The Washington Nationals have a very veteran look to them these days. That’s nothing new.
In 2017, the average position player’s age was 29.2, falling 0.1 age points short of the oldest hitting team to ever take the field in the franchise’s history (in 2005, the avg. age was 29.3).
But what about last year? As far as pitching goes, it was the oldest team you’ve ever seen — at least, from the Montreal/Washington tandem. In 2020, the Nationals trotted out a pitching staff where the average age was 30.8 years old. Unsurprisingly, this staff was the oldest in all of baseball during the 2020 campaign. A quick rundown of their contributions: 5.09 ERA, 503.2 innings, 1.517 WHIP, and a 9.08 K/9.
No, the Nationals weren’t historically old, but it does paint a picture of a waning window.
I’ve written ad nauseam about this particular phenomenon, likely resulting in our most devoted readers filing grievances against my works down in the comments section. It’s simply a fact that I can’t seem to shake. I’m a master hedger. I don’t like to commit too staunchly in one camp or another, often opting to keep my options open and not crafting an argument until I think it’s entirely worthy of being crafted. (Generally, I can’t live up to that self-billing because this is an industry in which you have to have a take all the time.)
The reason I mention that is because I can’t help feeling like the Nationals need to hedge their future a little bit. The frightening thing about the Nationals age isn’t whether or not they can compete now. Assuredly, they’ll be some semblance of formidable once games start being played. It seems likely they’ll stick around to see October, but baseball is a finicky sport and it’s not nearly as predictable as some of the others (like the NBA).
What’s so scary about all of this is the future. The organization has seemingly made its choice: Prioritize now and deal with “later” when “later” gets here. But from my vantage point, later seems much closer than some think it is. Although they don’t really have a say in the matter, fans also have to decide whether or not they’re willing to prioritize now for later.
The organization has already won a World Series. I suppose when you reach the pinnacle, it’s hard to come down, and perhaps that’s what’s happening within the organization. I’m also aware that hedging doesn’t always work. I’ve been aware of the goings-on in Pittsburgh over the last decade. The Pirates experienced success and then tried to remain somewhat competitive all the time. That decision has culminated in the complete restructuring and tearing down of the organization. But the Nationals aren’t in that position. They don’t need to completely restructure for a rebuild, like the Pirates or Baltimore Orioles. But they also don’t appear to be on the level of the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees.
My fear is that prioritizing now and trying to win before some of the stars depart — particularly in a season where so much of the competition is being built up to an absurd degree — is going to result in that complete overhaul. If that’s the case, Washington could experience the cellar for years on end, a place where I’m sure the team doesn’t want to find itself.
But it seems as though that the organization could play its cards right and enter a “reloading” phase, as it were, and not become so enamored with winning right now. When an entity becomes obsessed with a specific outcome on a fixed timeline, it could yield disaster. An outlook of middling-to-poor baseball could be on the docket for the foreseeable future once this group of veterans phases out. If that’s the case, who knows how long it could be until another contending team emerges in the nation’s capital. As fans, what would you prioritize?