Once the 2023 Trade Deadline passed this past August 1st (at 6:00 PM ET), it was time to get back to work for Davey Martinez and his club.
“A couple of our players came in at 6:01 p.m. and asked, ‘Am I still here?’” Martinez told reporters.
“I go, ‘Yeah, you guys are good. You got traded to the Washington Nationals, so congratulations. Keep playing.’”
The morning after the ‘23 deadline, GM Mike Rizzo talked with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies about the club’s goals for the 2024 campaign after the club, in his opinion, made real strides in terms of developing their young core in the majors and minors this season.
Rizzo’s goal for the club in ‘24?
“To win as many games as possible,” the GM said, “… to have more of our young players ascend to the big leagues and learn how to play the game and to kinda mesh into a group that’s gonna be the next championship-caliber group.”
“We got a lot of good young guys,” the Nats’ skipper said, pointing to the way CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas, Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams and others improved this year, and Martinez said the next wave Nats in the system have him excited too.
“Some of the guys that are coming I’m really, really excited about,” Martinez said.
“Some of the core guys that we got in Double-A that are doing well, we’re excited about those guys,” Martinez said of prospects like Brady House, Trey Lipscomb, Dylan Crews, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, and more.
“So the plan seems to be progressing and progressing quite quickly. I don’t think that we’re that far off. We’re playing, we compete here every day, and the guys are going out there and playing hard. So I love that about them. So we’ve got to continue to go and continue to get better.”
The sixth-year manager (who signed a new multi-year extension this summer), said he was not really surprised by how quickly the plan they kicked off at the deadline in 2021 is coming together, to the point he and Rizzo expect to be competitive again as soon as next season (‘24).
“Look, nobody that I surround myself with — we don’t like losing,” Martinez said. “We really don’t. We want this thing to happen and happen fairly quickly. This organization has been known to win and play in the playoffs. So we want to get back to that as soon as possible. So like I said, we started this thing, we’ve had a plan. The plan wasn’t to wait five, six years. The plan was to try to get it done. And right now we feel really good about where we’re at.”
Though the Nationals picked up 16 wins on their 2022 total, Rizzo told the Junkies he didn’t want to state a goal for the ‘24 campaign in terms of wins.
“I never put expectations or a wins and loss number,” out there he explained. “I want to play good baseball, I’m there to win every baseball game we play. ‘Today’s game is the most important game of the season, is what I tell the guys.’ Davey says ‘Let’s go 1-0.’ That’s his deal and that’s how we go about our business. You can’t — 162 [games] and a six-seven-month season, you can’t look at that big of a picture, we have to focus in on not only today’s game, not only this inning, not only this [at-bat], but as Clayton Kershaw said when we were in LA, to me, he’s like ‘This thing, I go pitch to pitch. It’s not inning-to-inning, batter-to-batter, it’s pitch-to-pitch,’ and that’s the focus that you have to have as a big league player, and that’s what so difficult about this game, is because you’re playing every damn day, and there’s 200 pitches a game, and you have to be locked in 200 pitches a game, and it seems like when you lose focus for that pitch or two or batter or two, the ball finds you and you lose the game that way.”
And how do you teach and instill the sort of focus players need as they develop?
“That’s what young players have to learn to ascend to be a rookie player to a good player to a great player,” Rizzo said.
“That’s kind of the escalation of their mental capacity in baseball and it’s exhausting sometimes.”
While there is arguably still room for improvement at all levels of the organization, and changes to the front office, minor, and major league staffs already this offseason seem to suggest the club thinks change/improvement was necessary, it’s ultimately about player development and turning the highly-regarded players the Nationals have added throughout the system into the next competitive club, as Rizzo explained when asked about what the next step was after he signed his own multi-year extension in September.
“To have our good young players take the next step in their progression,” he said, is the easiest expression of the goal, “… be it if it’s a winter league or an Arizona Fall League, or if it’s coming to Spring Training, and they just continue the success rate that we’ve had in our minor league system with these elite prospects.
“We’ve gone from a minor league system that had a lot of minor league players at the big league level, but as far as prospects and depth at the minor league level — [it] was short because we were in a competitive major league balance for about 10 years. So, we utilized a lot of our prospect capital to continue to win at the big league level.
“We’ve replenished that. We think that we have one of the better, deeper, more impactful [minor league] systems in the game, which we will use at our big league level in the near future to help us get back to a championship-caliber club.”