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Washington Nationals’ window still open for now, but time is quickly running out...

In the last eight seasons, the Nationals have been one of the best teams in baseball, but could that era be drawing to a close...

MLB: JUL 21 Orioles at Nationals Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since their first National League East title under their new guise in 2012, the Washington Nationals have been among Major League Baseball’s best and most consistent teams.

Not only do they now have a World Series championship to show for it after their overdue triumph in 2019, but they have also accumulated the third-most wins in the majors in that span, behind just the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

That consistent winning comes at a long-term price though.

While the Nationals have a handful of talented youngsters in the big leagues, the farm system has been bled dry in an effort to supplement the major league team with its most promising players either promoted to the big league team or dealt away for mid-season reinforcements.

Nobody associated with the team would swap the success the Nats have had over the last decade for a better farm system at the current juncture. But at some point, the price must be paid.

Not many teams can maintain a long competitive window like the Nationals have had without feeling the effects of it — with the aforementioned Dodgers and Yankees the outliers given the money they can consistently pump into not just their big league roster, but also their front office staff and player development to keep their minor league system in top shape.

Heading into 2021, the Nationals’ brass still believes that they have the foundation, mainly in their still formidable starting rotation, for another competitive season.

“We want to win, we want to compete,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters last month.

“You look at our starting pitching, I believe we have one of the best starting rotations in the game, so we have an opportunity to compete and an opportunity to win again.

“So with that being said, I know Rizzo is on board, I know the Lerner family, they’re on board, they like to win. So like I said, we’ve had conversations, and we’re going to do everything we can to put a team out there to compete and win in 2021.”

And if the front office puts the work in this offseason, there’s a very clear path to contention for Washington in the 2021 season.

The real question, however, is how much longer can the Nationals keep pace?

The contention window that opened in 2012 with that exciting young team was built off the back of having several key players that were still pre-arbitration or only into the first year or two of arbitration.

That allowed for some large contracts to be dished out to difference-makers on the free agent market.

With Bryce Harper earning the major league minimum, the Nationals could go out and get Jayson Werth.

With Stephen Strasburg also at the minimum, it meant Gio Gonzalez could have a long-term extension. You get the idea.

This time around, the young talent that’s out-earning their current pay is few and far between.

You could make an argument that the only two players doing so by a significant margin right now are Trea Turner and Juan Soto.

There are plenty of ways to build a championship-caliber ballclub, but most of them have several of these types of players that allow them to pile up more expensive talent at the same time.

That means that the Nationals are going to have to find more of those players and fast. The likes of Carter Kieboom and Victor Robles are going to have to play up to their vast potential soon and some of the organization’s top prospects are going to have to start becoming big league contributors within the next couple of seasons to build a new core.

It’s a lot of ifs for Washington to extend its contention window, which is why the questions about how much longer it can remain open have become louder as more of the old core move on.

“It’s funny. Everybody talks about this window,” Martinez said. “In this day and age, you play 162 games and anything can happen in a regular season.”

And after deflecting away from the talk of the so-called window, the Nats’ skipper turned his focus back to the task at hand in the 2021 season rather than looking into the future.

“We’ve got a lot of veteran pitchers,” Martinez explained. “We’ve got a lot of guys that really believe we can win again, which is really nice, including myself.

“We’ve got [Max] Scherzer. We’ve got [Stephen] Strasburg, who’s healthy. We’ve got [Patrick] Corbin.

“We’ve got some of our young pitchers that I think it’s time for them to actually make that next jump.

“You see glimpses of them being really, really successful. I think a couple of those guys are going to be really good for us this year.

“You’ve got the Juan Sotos, you’ve got the Treas. We got Carter, who I really believe is going to help us this year with his bat.

“I really think if we fill in the pieces, we’ve got a chance to compete.

“This division ain’t easy, I can tell you that. It’s tough. But we’re going to put a product on the field, I know that. Talking to Riz and ownership, we feel like we can compete and we want to win. We want to win in 2021.”

Beyond 2021 though, the path to consistent contention for the Nationals is murky. Their aging stars will ultimately decline in the near future and there isn’t a lot in the minor league pipeline that could help replace to replace their production in the majors.

There is definitely a window of opportunity for Washington to contend again this year, but that window could slam shut far quicker than some in the organization may be willing to admit...