“Nobody wants to aim to win 70 games in a season,” Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball ops Mike Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, late last season when Washington hit the 70-win plateau before adding another W for 71 total on the year, a 16-game jump for the club from 2022.
“We want to win 97 games in the season,” Rizzo explained. “So that’s our goal.
“That’s always been our goal. But this is a good step in the right direction to that. I’m really excited about what’s coming down the pike and the players that are going to be the next core group of the championship team that plays in Nationals Park.”
But what was the key to the Nats’ marked improvement over the last two seasons?
“The key to that was we won so few games the year before,” Rizzo said in note-perfect deadpan.
“That was really the key to it. We’re not proud of 71 wins, believe me. It was a step forward, but more importantly, young players made progress. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-aleck when I say that. Our goal was never to win 71 games, our goal is to win a division, win world championships. We think that — I feel that — we took a step in the right direction last year doing that and we’re going to try to facilitate another roster that allows us to take another step forward and get into action with a terrific division that we have to deal with. We understand the challenges in front of us, and I think that we’re a capable group, and I think you’ve seen in the past that we’ve done it, and I think that we’re going to be able to do it in the future.”
Nationals’ Manager Davey Martinez, who is headed into the seventh season on the bench in D.C., having signed a multi-year extension late last summer, talked at the recently-completed Winter Meetings about what he wants to see from his team in 2024.
“You know what, I just want them to compete,” Martinez explained. “We saw a lot of growth last year, especially in our younger players. I want them to be hungry and be ready. We’re close. We really are. These guys, they feel like they can do some special things. Our core young guys have — towards the end of the year, they started getting it. So I want them to build off of that and be ready to go in Spring Training.”
And when the skipper says the club is “close”?
What do the Nationals need to do to take the next step?
“We still got some pieces that we need to add,” Martinez responded.
“When I say that, we still got a lot of young kids that are coming up that could possibly help us, the Brady Houses, the [James Woods] even [Robert Hassell III], [Trey] Lipscomb, [who] I saw playing in the [Arizona Fall League]. Those guys are coming. The future’s bright here, it really is. I’m excited about it.”
Those young prospects and more will likely be in Spring Training with the big league club, so what benefit will it be for players the club thinks are on the cusp of contributing in the majors?
“I hope they’re all in big league camp because I want to see ‘em play,” Martinez said. “They will definitely get a lot. The biggest thing is really getting to know them and work with them and kind of give ‘em an idea of what we’re looking for and how we want to attack the game.
“That’s going to be the biggest thing.
“The other thing is too this year we got this prospect game that I’m really excited about. I think it will be fun for myself the coaching staff, even the fans to catch some of our young prospects. We got a lot of ‘em, so I think that’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Earlier this month, the Nationals announced they would hold their first Futures Game in the nation’s capital, with a number of top prospects taking part in an exhibition with Nationals’ major leaguers on March 26th, in advance of the start of the 2024 campaign.
“We’re incredibly thankful for the continued support of our fans in D.C., and we can’t wait for them to get a look at some of the players who will make up our next championship-caliber roster,” Rizzo said in a press release from the club. “Players like James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, and Robert Hassell have certainly received a lot of attention, and I know that once our fans have the chance to see a full lineup of the young guys in our system, there will be even more of a reason to be optimistic about where we’re headed.”
Rizzo elaborated on why he thought it was a good idea when he spoke on Day 1 of the 2023 Winter Meetings.
“I think it’s going to be a fun game,” the GM said. “I think it’s going to be great for the fans, that’s why I was all about it. I think the fans love seeing those young players that they all read about, and seeing them playing at the big league ballpark against big league competition, I think it’s going to be fun, and I think the interaction of the new and the veteran players is going to be good for them. I think it’s a win-win for everybody. It’s going to be an exciting day.
“People think they know our prospects by name and stuff like that, but they know a handful of the more popular ones. We got a good, deep system of exciting guys that we’re going to run out there, and it’s going to be fun for them to play, and it’s going to be fun for us to sit back and watch, and it’s going to be great for the fans to finally put a face with a name and give them something to kind of track throughout the season in minor leagues.”