The 2015 season was a disaster for the Washington Nationals which started with much promise when the Lerners ponied up $210 million to bag the prize of free agency that year in Max Scherzer. In Spring Training, the infamous line was uttered, “Where’s my ring” by a giddy Bryce Harper. The reigning NL East champs looked like they would win 100+ games that year, but the only thing they won was the 17th slot in the 2016 draft because of their 83-79 disappointing record that signaled the exit of that season’s manager Matt Williams. The team also lost Denard Span, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond to free agency and shifted Danny Espinosa to shortstop. It was no secret that filling second base was a top priority for the 2016 season as well as signing a centerfielder.
On Christmas eve of 2015, the news broke that the Nationals signed Daniel Murphy to a three-year deal, but it was the circuitous path to that deal which was Rizzo’s Plan C or Plan D of the offseason that seemed so odd if you remember back to the managerial search that was so botched between Bud Black and Dusty Baker then there was the rumored pursuit of Jason Heyward for centerfield and the trade for Brandon Phillips that was nixed because Phillips would not waive his no-trade clause.
Nats fans were clamoring for some action and disappointment was felt again when Ben Zobrist reportedly signed with the Cubs for less money than the Nats offered and questioned the “toxic” clubhouse which was on public display for all to see when Jonathan Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat in the dugout just three months earlier. It was not until Christmas eve when Rizzo finally was able to get Murphy, but it came with a steep price as the Nats had to forfeit their 17th draft pick. Who was picked 17th in the draft? Forest Whitley by the Astros and Gavin Lux was drafted 3 picks later before Carter Kieboom and Dane Dunning were picked up by the Nats as comp picks for JZim and Desi.
What could have been you wonder if the Nats just stayed righty and signed Howie Kendrick who the Dodgers re-signed, and the Nats retained their 17th pick in the draft. It is hard to believe that Kendrick was available and coming off of a very good season at 31 years old.
“Some things are just destined to happen,” Kendrick said about his path back to Dodgers Stadium after he won the NLDS this year. “I truly believe that. A lot of things lead up to moments like this. For some reason, you just can’t explain them. It’s almost like it was meant to be.”
Ah, that divine line of destiny. Rizzo had many choices out there, and Murphy it would be. After New Years, he traded for Ben Revere in a deal that sent Drew Storen to Toronto. This 2016-2018 roster would look very different, and every move sends you in a future direction on a course that cannot be reversed and becomes your destiny. The team finally cut ties with Storen and would do the same with Danny Espinosa after the 2016 season. The team made the postseason again and failed in another NLDS.
If you believe in the Michael Jordan theory of failure, you have to take your shots to succeed. As World Series manager Dave Martinez would tell you is that you can learn a lot from failing. Perseverance is a key to winning, and “Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places” as Martinez told an appreciative crowd of Nats fans. Yes indeed. Rizzo will take his shots. He will fill every roster spot and endure the bumps in the road. This all leads to this offseason and staying patient while the Nats decide what they will ultimately do with Josh Donaldson or whether they go in another direction once again.
The Nationals already inked one of the top prizes of free agency already with Stephen Strasburg who talked about the past and the future.
“I’d like to think baseball is a lot like life – I would think that that’s what draws a lot of people to the game,” Strasburg said this week. “It’s a game based on failure. I think this team has proved that if you believe in one another and keep fighting, you can achieve things that most people thought were impossible. To be a part of that environment, it’s something you want to hold onto and continue to be there.”
The ultimate failures in 2019 were for the twenty-nine other teams. Rizzo is really playing with house money. He has the World Series trophy. If he just filled in the rest of the roster with +1.0 WAR players and did not fill Anthony Rendon‘s spot with a 4-5 WAR player it should be acceptable given that Rizzo does not have to be desperate like some of his counterparts. Yes, this roster does not look like a playoff team at this moment. From Trea Turner to Adam Eaton to Juan Soto to Kendrick, there is a middle of the order of the bat missing. But do you chase something that will set you up down the road for disappointment? Rizzo has been very adept at not doing that and burdening his roster with dead payroll like the Yankees have endured with players like Alex Rodriguez and Jacoby Ellsbury. Long-term deals for aging players is risky.
If you believe the report by Ken Rosenthal, he says the Nats have already put a 4-year deal on the table for the 34-year-old third baseman. All we can do at this point is keep our faith in Rizzo because after 95 years of disappointment in Washington baseball this city once again found that they are the champions of baseball and some would say, “In Rizzo We Trust”.