In July 2016, Theo Epstein of the Cubs pulled off what can universally be accepted as one of the worst trades of all time; he obtained a rental relief pitcher, Aroldis Chapman (albeit the best in the business), for a generational talent, Gleyber Torres, who remains under Yankees team control for five more years. In a vacuum, that’s the kind of trade that gets GM’s fired, but of course there is a rub in the “Prospects are cool, parades are cooler” concept as the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, and they probably would not have done it without acquiring Aroldis Chapman. The point of this anecdote is that winning the World Series changes everything, and there is usually no such thing as a bad trade if it leads directly to a championship particularly if your team has not won one in decades.
On October 30th, 2019, the Washington Nationals won the World Series which was an outcome that changes everything for this franchise. For me at least, it removes the terrible angst of potentially losing some players; I hate the idea of departing star players via free agency, but we did after all win the whole Enchilada.
We all got a small jolt of how quickly we have to transition from the glow of the magical finish of 2019 to the cold hard business of baseball when Matt Adams was summarily dismissed on the morning of the championship parade. By that same evening the team declined the option of the man who caught just about every inning in the World Series as Yan Gomes option was was declined,and the series MVP, Stephen Strasburg, opted-out of his contract on the same night. Wow.
As we are jolted into reality and start considering life after a World Series win, the question becomes: Are we going to be a one and done like the Marlins of yesteryear or will we be a franchise like the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees who aim to contend for a championship every year? The Nationals history speaks to the latter as the team has had a winning record every season since 2012.
As luck would have it, two of our best players, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, are right at the top of the free agent market, and they are two players who would be incredibly hard to replace; in addition, the man who was easily our 3rd best hitter all year and maybe better than anyone in the playoffs, Howie Kendrick, is also a free agent. Kendrick doesn’t really have a set position, and at 37, he could be expensive. Additionally, our main divisional opponents, the Braves, are set up perfectly with two young stud starters (Fried and Soroka) a couple more potential starting stars as well as young positional stars on crazy team-friendly contracts. Also, they have a couple more positional youngsters ready for the show. It may well be that our path to the playoffs may yet again be through the wild card game.
Laying out all the challenges I remain convinced that Mike Rizzo plans to contend. You don’t sign a Patrick Corbin for 6 years if you are rebuilding, and you don’t rebuild when you have Max Scherzer. At the same time, it’s really critical that the likes of Jackson Rutledge and even Seth Romero and Mason Daneburg are not all misses. The top of the rotation needs to start coming from within at some point.
In expected news, the Nationals have been reported to have put qualified offers on both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. If they both depart, the Nationals would receive some level of draft compensation dependent on whether or not team is above or below the CBT threshold. Many analysts believe the Nationals will retain both players, but many analysts make these as purely guesses based on spending habits and needs.
For us baseball and hot stove geeks, the transition from the best month in the franchise history to the offseason will be interesting (maybe the most interesting ever). Let’s get the show on the road.