Tanking? No tanking here:
Anti-tanking measures were a topic of discussion between the players and MLB as they hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement these last few months, and the whole rebuilding/tanking line has been blurred in recent years to the point that it was a big part of the negotiations, but the “reboot” (important distinction from a rebuild) the Washington Nationals kicked off with last July 30th’s sell-off of expiring contracts (and a year-plus of Trea Turner) was the start of a process of once again building a core of a competitive roster after a decade of competing for division titles and World Series championships. Why is it difference in D.C.? Why are they rebooting instead of rebuilding and tanking for a few years to help the process?
“I can’t speak for other teams, I speak for our team,” GM and President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo told reporters over the final weekend of the 2021 campaign, “... and we’ve been an excellent team for more than a decade and we have an ownership group that wants to win and we’ve got a front office that wants to win, and we’ve got a GM who hates to lose more than he likes to win, so we’re about winning.
“We’ve always been about winning, and we’ve been as successful as any team in baseball over the last eleven years, and I don’t see our willingness [to win] changing.”
“Under Rizzo’s leadership,” the organization noted in their Season in Review for 2021, “... the Nationals have transformed into one of Major League Baseball’s perennially elite clubs, winning a World Series in 2019, earning four National League East titles (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017) and one Wild Card berth (2019) in the last 10 seasons,” and since he became the General Manager back in ‘09, “[t]he Nationals are 1029-974 (.514) ... [which] is the 10th-best record in Major League Baseball over the last 13 seasons.”
“I know the Washington Nationals,” Rizzo explained when he was asked if tanking was too prevalent, in general, around the game, “... so I’m going to speak about that, and I think there’s ways to compete in the long-term without tanking, and I think we’ve proved it here. I think that sustained excellence does not come accidentally, I think it’s built, the culture is built, and I think that we’ve seen it implemented here.”
Davey Martinez, who has been on the bench in Washington for four seasons now, and who helped to guide the club to the first World Series title by a D.C.-based team since 1924 in 2019, talked during the final weekend of the club’s disappointing 2021 campaign about getting right back at it in 2022, with a young, exciting core of players he and Rizzo and Co. in the front office think will be back competing for division titles and postseason berths sooner than later.
“I’m excited,” Martinez told reporters back in October ‘21. “We’ve got some young players, Keibert [Ruiz], Riley Adams, Josiah [Gray], I’m seeing some good things out of Luis [García], maturity-wise. Carter [Kieboom]. I think we’re going to be in a good spot. I can’t say enough about [Kyle] Finnegan — what he’s done this year, because he’s been the backbone of our bullpen these last few months, and he’s done terrific.
“But watching [Paolo] Espino do what he does, all these guys. Josh [Rogers] coming up and we know what he did.
“it’s all been exciting and fun, but the bottom line, as I told these guys as we have meetings with them, we’ve got to get back to winning games, and finishing out games, and being on top. I love winning, and I tell them all the time I’m not crazy about losing, as a matter of fact, I don’t like it. They know that. After the games, I sit in my office, and they know that I wear it, and I wear it for all of them, but we got to get better. And this winter is going to be a tall [order]. I’ve already went around and told them, ‘Hey, you need to come to Spring Training physically ready to play a game like it was April 1st and we’re at Opening Day, because we got to hone in on our baseball skills from Day 1.”
2022 and Beyond:
Of course, until late this week, when they finally agreed on a new CBA, the start of Spring Training was undetermined as they tried to get a new agreement done.
Now Opening Day is set for April 7th, so for another year, after a late start to the pandemic season in 2020, and a coronavirus-impacted 2021, there will be another odd sort of build-up for the 2022 campaign, which will undoubtedly impact the club’s preparation at a time when they could use all the time available to work on things they wanted to focus on this spring.
While some of the stars of the previous competitive rosters are gone (Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, and more), Martinez and Rizzo are confident that the makings of the another championship team are already in place, and they’re in the process of building the culture in D.C. back up again with a new roster of players and new mindset throughout the organization.
“We talk about that all the time, it’s not just a team it’s a whole organization. I mean, it really is,” Martinez said of the plan for the reboot.
“When we won in ‘19, it took the whole organization to really do everything we needed to do to win the championship.
“One player is not going to win a championship for you. It helps to have one guy like that … you need 26 guys every day to get out there and do their job. And as I always tell these guys, ‘If you can do one thing successfully every day to help your team win, there’s a good chance that we’re going to win.’ So, and that’s what we need to focus on, it’s not just one player, but we need to focus on everybody here to help us win.”