Post Deadline Run In Review:
While things didn’t go well for the Washington Nationals, in terms of wins and losses, in the post-trade deadline run, the club, and the fans who’ve stuck with them this season, were in the end provided with a glimpse of the future over the final weeks of the 2022 campaign.
“It’s nice to see some of our young players perform at this level,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters on Tuesday in Citi Field, where the Nats wrapped up their season yesterday.
“I think that, again, we’re looking at some of the core components of what our next title team will look like, and I think that the results are encouraging.”
There’s been a lot of teaching going on with a relatively young and inexperienced ballclub, and the GM said he thinks his manager Davey Martinez and his staff have done a good job of shepherding members of the next generation through a tough season as the club goes forward with the organizational reboot they kicked off in July of 2021.
“I think he’s doing a good job,” Rizzo said, hours after Martinez confirmed he would in fact bring his entire staff back in 2023.
“These guys have been awesome,” he added. “They’ve been an extension of my voice.
“They care. They care about each individual. And they’re putting the time in to get each of these guys better.”
“I think I’ve seen what they’ve done with some of the younger players,” Rizzo continued.
“I think I see progress in some of our young guys like [Luis] García and [CJ] Abrams, and Keibert [Ruiz], before he was hurt. I think you’ve seen a lot of progress in some of our pitchers, especially our bullpen has done a remarkable job, taking some unproven guys, some guys that were cast aside by other organizations, and really made them into big league talent that we can depend on.
“And I think that you see a team out there that plays hard for 27 outs. Sometimes it is not pretty, but the effort is there, and I think that’s all [attributed to] the coaching staff and to Davey.”
Martinez’s consistency, regardless of the results day to day, was, in the Nationals’ minds, one of the keys to their improbable run from 19-31 to the World Series in 2019, and Rizzo said it’s been the same as they’ve rebooted things in the last couple seasons.
“To me you evaluate the manager on how he handles the team and the organization,” Rizzo explained.
“I think he’s been the same guy from when we won a world championship to this year when we’re going to lose 100+ games.”
They we’re up to 104 at the point he spoke, of course, and back-to-back losses made it 55-106 on the season, before the loss last night left them 55-107 on the year, with the most Ls by any team since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005.
In terms of D.C. baseball history, this year’s club topped the 1963 Senators, who lost 106 in a 162-game season, but they did not surpass the 1909 Senators (114 losses over 156 games), or the 1904 Senators (who dropped 113 in 157 G) in terms of total losses, on the all-time loss list.
For Rizzo, as someone who has said often he hates losing more than he likes winning, it has not been a fun season, not for him or for anyone on the field, bench, in the front office, or in the stands.
“It’s just a terrible year,” Rizzo said. “It’s no fun. It’s a daily grind to come here and to lose baseball games, but when things are at its worst, I got to be at my best, and I try to be as supportive as I can along with honest evaluations to the players. We’re having exit interviews now and we’re talking to each and every player about what they need to do to come back next year and to help have this team get better. So I think that it’s a learning experience for me. This is something that you don’t like to do. We’ve done it many, many years ago, and then produced 10 years of successful baseball after that.
“So that’s our hope, that’s the blueprint, and that’s the plan we have moving forward.”
If You Were Wondering...
If you were wondering where in this reboot process the Nationals will start spending on the free agents or making the trades they believe will complement the in-house talent and take them back to the postseason, Rizzo did discuss what’s next for the ballclub as they build for 2023 and beyond this winter, when he spoke with the press in Citi Field on Tuesday, and in Wednesday morning’s visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
“This offseason we have to better ourselves,” Rizzo told reporters in Queens.
“We have to see where our deficiencies are,” he added, “... where we can strengthen our roster, and like I said before, all these different venues, trade markets, free agent markets, international markets, are going to be explored to get better.”
Rizzo and his front office are firm in their “trust the process/stay the course” talk, and they believe they have the institutional knowledge to do this, and will know when it is time they start making the sort of additions they think will take them to the next level.
“I think that we have an idea and a timetable of a big picture,” Rizzo said, “but it’s the small minute details that build that big picture. And we’re certainly not going to get ahead of ourselves, and that is what I mean by we have to stay the course and be true to the plan, and I think that good things will happen.”
In his visit with the Sports Junkies on Wednesday, Rizzo went into far more detail about the things he likes about where the organization is, and when they might start making the next competitive runs in D.C. It started with the sell-off of expiring contracts (and a year-plus of Trea Turner) in 2021, continued with international and first-year draft classes, and then this season they signed and drafted more prospects, and dealt Juan Soto and Josh Bell for five prospects in the Padres’ system (and a big league bat in Luke Voit).
“I think that’s the strategy that we employed,” Rizzo said of the full-on reboot approach they decided on last season.
“It’s a tried and true strategy,” he continued.
“You get young before you build your core group of guys, and I don’t think it takes a leap of faith too far to see where we’ve gone from the original playoff teams to right now. You see that there’s a small, core group of guys that we’re going to entrust to be the next group of championship-caliber teams that we have, but I think you also see — which is harder to see because it’s not on television all the time — is the group of minor league prospects that we have that are coming to the big leagues.
“And we forget that all these great players that we’ve had in the past, all these great players, the [Bryce] Harpers and the [Anthony] Rendons, and the [Trea]Turners, and even the [Yan] Gomeses and the [Kurt] Suzukis, and these guys, they were all prospects at one time, they were all the type that [CJ] Abrams and [Robert] Hassell [III] and [James] Wood, and [Brady] House, and [Cade Cavalli] and [Elijah] Green, those guys were all these type of prospects back in the day, and as they mature and get better they become the MVPs of the league and that type of thing, and that’s the plan of attack here.
“I think you’ve seen a big step forward this year when you look at a core group of a young, -year-old catcher in Ruiz, and 22 at shortstop in Abrams, and 22 at second base in García, and you’ve got [24-year-old] Gray, and Cavalli is , and [MacKenzie] Gore is 23, I think that you see that’s 6-7-8 young prospects that will be with us for a long time, and then you tack on those prospects that are coming that I just mentioned, and then it’s time to make your trades, and add your free agent signings, and those type of things, and that was the blueprint we used back in ‘09, ‘10, and ‘11, when we ... bottomed out and slowly creeped up and before you know it we’re on a 10-year run of winning four division titles, and a Wild Card, and a National League pennant, and a world championship, and that’s how we did it, and that’s how we plan to do it again.”
“We’re going into the winter with a lot of different areas that we need to fix,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters in advance of the season finale last night in Citi Field. “But what I do love is we get Cade healthy, MacKenzie Gore, who’s going to leave here healthy, they’re going to get a chance to come in Spring Training and compete. You’ve got Josiah who learned a lot, you’ve got Patrick [Corbin], who I really felt like over the last 6-7 starts he was getting back to what he was, so you’re talking about adding maybe 1-2 more starters and I think with doing that, with CJ and Luis in the middle, Victor playing center field every day, you know, I think we’re definitely going to get better.”
The fifth-year manager also said he thought they needed to add some pop to the lineup for 2023.
“Yeah, we have to find 1-2 guys, but I think some of our younger guys you’ll start seeing a little bit more of the power come out,” Martinez said. “But for me it’s all about the starting pitching, I mean, I’ve seen teams back in the day where I played — St. Louis Cardinals stick out for me, they had Jack Clark, who drove in all the runs, but those other guys, you know, got on base, they were athletic. For me it’s about doing all the things, being more athletic, which we tried to do. We ran a lot more, we did a lot more hit-and-run, we bunted some, I mean, if you had that 1-2 guys in the middle of the lineup that can drive the ball — and I think Joey [Meneses] can be one of those guys as well — we got something. But if we don’t have starting pitching it will be tough.”
Highlight of 2023:
I actually listened a little more closely, turning off my locked-in, transcribing mind when one of the reporters in Citi Field for the final game of the 2022 campaign asked Davey Martinez for his highlight from the season before last night’s finale with the Mets. Would he go back through the last 162 and come up with a specific moment? A stretch of positive results? Or pick a player whose performance stood out? What was Davey’s highlight of the ‘22 run?
“Oh, boy,” he began, pausing for a moment. “For me ... it’s not just one thing, it’s — honestly, watching these guys compete. Not giving up. We talk about that, these guys never gave up all year long. At one point, I know I mentioned that we were out of it, and you could look at these guys and I don’t think that even mattered to them.
“They were going to go out there and play hard. You wouldn’t have known that we were a 100-loss team because of the way they played, so now in order for us to turn that around and go the other way, we got to compete, but we got to compete to win every game, and figure out how to win those close games, and put teams away early.”