In a September 14th appearance with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s The Sports Junkies, GM Mike Rizzo talked about the organizational reboot the club kicked off with a sell-off of expiring contracts (and a year-plus of Trea Turner) at the trade deadline in July of 2021.
“We went into this thing when we started this reboot, it was a very challenging time in our franchise’s history,” Rizzo explained, “... and we in the front office embraced it.
“It was something that nobody wants to do, you’d rather have that veteran-laden team that gives you a chance to win every day, and that type of thing, and then when you go into these kind of tear-down things where you have to try to reboot and try to win in the future, it’s tough, but we took it as an exciting challenge, it really — it really shows what the front office is doing in the game, and at least right now the fans can see what is on the horizon, and what’s in the future. When you see guys like [Keibert] Ruiz, and [CJ] Abrams, and [Luis] García, and [Josiah] Gray, and [Cade] Cavalli, and MacKenzie Gore, and you can see what those guys are doing in the minor leagues, like in [Class-A] Fredericksburg and that type of thing, there’s a sense of excitement each and every night, but also frustration that we’re not winning on a consistent enough basis.”
“For me,” manager Davey Martinez said after the club’s 100th loss of the year, “the losing part of it, it’s hard to accept. It really is. Every night I go home and I think about what our expectations are moving forward, and that’s to get these guys better each and every day, and not to give up on them, and that’s something that I’ve never done, and I will never do.”
In less than a week (most likely, but, weather), the season will be over, and the Nationals will move on to trying to put together a roster which can compete in 2023, and their fifth-year skipper is really looking forward to that part of the process.
“You know, it’s going to be fun to start sitting down and talking about the ‘23 season and putting things together and seeing where we’re at as an organization,” Martinez said this week.
“We’re always involved in conversations. Missing pieces, talk about some missing pieces that we’re going to look to try to add. All those conversations are fun, and as the season winds down and the last game is upon us, we’ll still be working. We’ve got tons to do, so we’ll talk a lot about what we want to do over the winter, and how we want to attack Spring Training.
“But for me, it’s part of it. And I love having those conversations, because we do need to get better, for sure.”
“I think that we’re going to find every way we can to get better,” Rizzo told the Junkies in this week’s visit, when asked how the offseason might play out, if the Nationals will be players in the free agent or trade markets, etc.
“We don’t like losing. We certainly don’t like losing 100+ games, and we want to remedy that, but I think that you’re going to see further development. But we’re going to be players in the free agent market, we’re going to make good, prudent moves in the free agent market and the trade market and that type of thing, and I think you’re going to see us keep taking that next step in the progression of becoming a championship-caliber club in the very near future. You’re definitely going to see more young, exciting young players next year brought to the big leagues. I think there are several on the cusp of it right now, and I think that when you couple that with the 8-9 core players that we have on the roster now, some new, fresh talent that we’re going to inject into it from our minor league system, and some prudent free agent signings and trades, I think you’re going to see an exciting brand of baseball that is going to be way more competitive in the division than we are this year, and our expectations are going to be greater than they are this year.”
On the night of the 2021 MLB Draft, Brady House, the Nationals’ 1st Round pick (11th overall), told reporters he was determined to stay at short, even if at 18 (he’s now 19), he was already a pretty big (6’4’’, 215) compared to the average big league shortstop.
“100%,” House said, “... that’s what I work towards every day is just beating everyone out at short and just proving that I can stay at short, because that’s where I feel comfortable, that’s where my bread and butter is, and I feel like I can stay at short for sure if I keep up the work there.”
His model for other big shortstops who made him think it can work even as he grows and develops?
“I’d compare myself a little bit to Trevor Story. You know he’s a bigger shortstop too that hits, got a lot of power, hits for contact, and I’ve been compared to him, so yeah, I’d say Trevor for sure.”
Story is 6’2’’, 215, at 29 years old now, for the record. But there are other big shortstops, of course.
“For big guys like that,” Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Ops Kris Kline said on the night of the 2021 Draft, “... that maybe aren’t blessed with as much range as stereotypical middle infielder, he will have to learn the hitters, know where to play guys, be smart about where he positions himself, to create an advantage for himself,” if they want to stay at shortstop.
“[House] moves different, he moves very graceful for a guy his size, and he’s got a really good flexibility to his lower half,” Kline added at another point, explaining you just had to see a few games of House at short to understand why it could actually work. “He catches everything, it’s smooth, it’s fluid, and then he’s got that — with that 20-80 [scouting] scale, with 50 being average — he’s got that 70 arm, where he makes up for it if he needs it. So, you know, you look at guys like — bigger guy, and there’s some tall shortstops now in the big leagues. Paul DeJong for the Cardinals, he doesn’t look like the prototypical guy, but he catches everything, and what does he do, he hits and hits for power. I think that he has a chance to stay there, but he’s going to get displaced by the more elite defender at that level if that makes sense.”
Will it potentially happen at the major league level if House works his way up fast enough and CJ Abrams (just 21) is still installed as the shortstop in the nation’s capital?
Rizzo was asked the question above at the start of this week’s interview with the Junkies, on behalf of a fan when the hosts solicited questions for the GM, but he actually answered it as he and his staff prepared for the 2022 Draft, and he was asked if they’d continue to go with the best available players at each spot regardless of the make-up of the organizational ranks at the time?
“Best player in the draft is always our philosophy, in the draft, and it will continue to be,” he explained. “The best player available is the guy that we’re going to take, and we’ll figure out positionally when we get it. It’s the same question I had when I was [the Scouting Director in] Arizona. We drafted Stephen Drew, who turned out to be a 12-13-year big leaguer, and we took Justin Upton who was a shortstop out of high school the next year, and people asked, ‘What are you going to do with two shortstops?’ And I said, ‘Well, if Jeter and A-Rod can figure out what to do with two shortstops we can figure out what to do with it. As many impactful players as you can get, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Rizzo turned to his Jeter/Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees analogy again this week when the Junkies (via a submitted question from a fan as noted), asked about House/Abrams and how it might work out when/if they’re on the same roster.
“That’s an easy one,” Rizzo said.
“If they’re both terrific players like we hope and think they’re going to be then you make an adjustment on the position of them. If Jeter and A-Rod can figure out who’s going to play short and who’s going to play third, then I guess Abrams and House can figure it out too.
“It’s never a bad thing when you have too many good players and not enough positions for them. So, we’re just going to take that as it comes.
“CJ looks like he’s a terrific defensive shortstop with some upside offensively, and a dynamic energetic player.
“And House is just a guy that — 18 years old — had a terrific first half of the season before he got COVID and then he got a little bit of a back injury and looks like he’s going to be a power-hitting type of middle of the lineup guy for us in the near future. So we’ll figure that out if that’s the way it has to be when they’re both so good they have to be on the field at the same time. We’ll figure that one out easily.”
Do The DOOOOOOOO!!!!!:
Sean Doolittle landed on the Injured List with a left elbow sprain back in April, and went on the 60-Day IL after receiving a PRP injection in May.
Before the elbow issues, he’d thrown 5 1⁄3 scoreless in his second stint with the Nationals, striking out six without walking any batters, and he was starting to throw, and build up again, when things once again went awry.
In mid-July, the recently-turned 36-year-old, 11-year veteran underwent something called an internal brace procedure”, “... which is repairing the ligament, the UCL ligament,” as skipper Davey Martinez explained at the time, adding, “... so he’s going to be out 5-6 months.”
While he hasn’t been on the mound since April, Doolittle has been around the team, and his manager said this week the reliever has been an invaluable resource for the relievers who’ve carried the load this season.
“He’s been great. He really has,” Martinez said. “He’s been really good — especially with those guys in the bullpen, our young guys. He’s got a lot to share, and as you know, he’s not afraid to share it. So it’s good to have him around. He’s upbeat all the time, he talks to all the young players, he talks to our veteran players. I love having him. He’s engaged in the games, he’s always having conversations with guys in the games about the game itself. I’m glad he’s still around, and it shows me that he still wants to pitch. He wants to come back, he doesn’t want to finish his career the way this is right now. So he wants to come back, get healthy, and try to pitch again.
“Before he got hurt he was doing unbelievable, in a role that was very important to us, so hopefully he can come back and we’ll see what happens next spring.”
Doolittle signed a 1-year/$1.5M free agent deal with the Nationals this past March, returning to the organization following a year away, after pitching for Washington from 2017 (when he was acquired from the Oakland A’s) to 2020 (a year after helping the club win the first World Series by a D.C.-based team since 1924), so if Martinez is talking about what happens next spring, is bringing Doolittle back a possibility?
“We signed him back this year,” Martinez said, “... we knew he wanted to be back here, so it was great to come back here, and like I said, he put in the work in Spring Training, got ready, started the season off really well, and I was proud of him. He came back a different guy. His fastball, his velo was down a little bit, but learned how to pitch a little bit, and that’s tough to do when you’re so used to doing things one way.
“But these guys make adjustments, and he was getting some big outs for us early on in the season.”
So you’re saying there’s a chance? If Doolittle isn’t done at this point is it worth it to bring him back?
Martinez, who played 16 years in the majors before becoming a coach, then a manager, did acknowledge it’s not easy to decide to finally hang’em up, and it’s always tough to make the decision, if it’s not made for you.
“It’s definitely tough,” Martinez, who turned 58 this week, said earlier this week.
“It’s something that you’ve done — for me I’ve done for many, many years, just like Doo and those guys. Once you walk away from the game, you try to figure out what’s next. What you can do. For me it was more about my family and kids, so that kept me going a lot every day. And then the phone rang, and here I am, started coaching again. But it’s difficult once, you know, it comes [to] that time. You wish you could play — I sit down here and I say, ‘I wish I was Nelson Cruz, and could play that many more years,’ and it just didn’t happen.
“But it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough for a lot of these guys because the game has meant a lot to all of us.
“When you’re playing and you’re in the grind every day, and all of a sudden it’s gone, it’s a little rough, unless there’s something else that you really, really feel strong about doing, it takes a little bit of an adjustment.”
D.C. vs ATL in ‘22:
With Tuesday night’s loss to Atlanta, Washington fell to 4-14 against the Braves this season, and the night ended with the Nationals’ NL East rivals tied for first place in the division. So yeah, it’s been a long year for the Nats and their manager Davey Martinez. Asked for his thoughts on the defending World Series champs after the next-to-last matchup this season, the fifth-year skipper said he’s been impressed with the 2022 Braves’ club.
“They can beat you in many ways,” he told reporters. “They can hit for power. They’ve got guys that put the ball in play. And they’ve got good speed now. They’re going to beat you as many ways as possible. I look at some of our games this year with them, we’ve played really well against them, we just haven’t finished the games late in games, but that’s the reason why they’re probably headed to the playoffs again, right? So we just got to forget about this game, pick our heads up, we got a game tomorrow against them again, and let’s do a little better job of picking up the baseball and getting outs.”
With a walk-off win last night, the Nationals finished the year 5-14 against the Braves this season…