As you read opinion pieces around the “Natmosphere” on the state of the Washington Nationals, you will almost certainly encounter some of the “world is ending” drama given the slow starts in Spring Training by the three players expected to play a combination of third base and second base. Top prospect Carter Kieboom, who was told it is his job to lose by manager Dave Martinez, is batting .214 with two errors at the “hot corner” in a grand total of 14 at-bats. Starlin Castro, who was signed in the off-season as a free agent, is batting .000 in all of 11 at-bats to go with 2 walks. Asdrubal Cabrera is batting .167 in just 12 at-bats.
“Carter is a guy that we’re hoping takes the reins and runs with it,” general manager Mike Rizzo said in a much different message about his status on making the roster. “He will get every opportunity to make the club and to be our everyday guy. But we’ve got a lot of contingency plans if that doesn’t work out. We’ve got some really professional players that know how to play the position and I like our versatility. We’ve got several guys who can play in that spot and we feel really good about all those options.”
Sample sizes are miniscule at this point in time in Spring Training. Process is more important than the statline results in the preseason. Over in the Cactus League, Anthony Rendon is batting .444 after going 0-3 last night, and his name will be mentioned in “doom and gloom” pieces over and over just because some think that he should still be with the Nats. But you know what, it does not work that way. Rendon saw a payday in Anaheim and took a backloaded contract for $245 million and won’t look back. He was a free agent and it was his choice.
Rendon did not go the Christian Yelich route of giving his team a hometown discount to stay which Yelich will have done twice once he signs his current deal reportedly for $27 million a year with the Brewers. When he signed at first with the Marlins on a deal paying the 2018 MVP and 2019 MVP runner-up $7 million a year, some thought he left $80 million on the table. Yelich is on the verge of signing with his current team, again, which mind you he never chose at first — he was traded there by those Marlins. Yelich may never test free agency in his life, and that seems fine with him. He has chosen to stay with two teams that operate as smaller market teams instead of heading to the big city of large payrolls.
Yelich and Rendon have nothing to do with the Nats future plans, and the point is that you can only control what you can control. Players have to decide what is best for them. Don’t begrudge Rendon because he went for the cash grab while Yelich who is from Angels’ territory decided to stay in his new home in Milwaukee on a bargain deal. Yelich owns a home in Malibu where he spends much of his winter so he certainly gets his SoCal fix whenever he desires it. Rendon will do his thing there. Bottom line, this is not about Asdrubal Cabrera, Kieboom, or anyone else filling in for Rendon.
“I’m not here to fill [Anthony Rendon’s] shoes,” Kieboom said to NBC Sports Washington. “That guy, in every category possible — baseball, clubhouse, off the field, family, he checks all the boxes. He does it. He’s a special player. That’s not my job, to fill his shoes. My job is to be myself, do what I can. Control what I can control.”
“There’s going to be expectations of course. There’s going to be comparisons to what I do versus what Tony does, but that just comes with the job. That comes with anything when somebody as great as he is leaves, and joins another team and somebody needs to come in and fill the spot. I wouldn’t even say I’m replacing him. I don’t — he’s not replaceable. But I’m here to fill a spot, take care of business, play my game and go from there.”
General Manager Mike Rizzo built a World Series team on a platform that was not even his best team assembled on paper. That would have been the 2016 Washington Nationals with stars all over the roster, but that team failed in the NLDS. The 2019 team was built to get into the postseason dance, and did, and won the grand prize. Twenty-nine other teams failed. Maybe the 2020 Nats will fail in the end. Heck, the last team to repeat as World Series champs was 20 years ago with the Yankees before there was a CBT penalty cap.
This 2020 Nats team will compete and the cream will rise to the top. Maybe this will be a transitional year to next year when the Nats can retool a little bit and kind of know where they stand with the young Kieboom. Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez cannot really know what they have right now or on May 24th and possibly not until the trade deadline in July.
“We’re not looking to make a trade,” Rizzo said about third base “It’s nothing that has been a priority to us in the offseason. Like I said, we’ve handled all the options that we need to have at third base through the offseason and I think that it shows with the roster construction about how versatile this group is and how effective they can be.”
It is Mike Rizzo’s job to look ahead, and he already knows the potential free agents on the market after the 2020 season. He has to be thinking about J.T. Realmuto, Yelich’s former Marlins’ teammate, who Rizzo has tried to trade for multiple times. After the Phillies defeated him in arbitration a few weeks ago, he does not look like a player who will sign an extension to stay in Philly, but who knows from the owner who vowed to spend “stupid money” and never really spent it except on one player.
The Nats core of starting pitchers will all return next year with Anibal Sanchez‘s option as the only potential change. The future looks bright for the Nats and their window. We will be talking about Scherzer’s final two years of his current deal instead, and maybe you play that into 2021 before you decide on that. Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles comprise the youthful trio in that current core, and hopefully Joe Ross and Carter Kieboom can make that a quintet. They are the only under-30 potential impact guys as Castro turns 30 in nineteen days. We are getting glimpses of course of Luis Garcia who is only 19 years old. Add it all up and there is a lot to like on paper if the youngsters can step up.
Every team has their own set of blueprints, and you never know what you really have until the games are played just like when that skyscraper is built off of its blueprint. And that is how Rizzo’s plan will evolve. He will take this 88-win team as Fangraphs projects them and set out to be the best team in the NL East and get a ticket to the postseason dance. The journey to that destination is always what is interesting.
Stay positive like Davey Martinez because bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.