A look back on 2019 and 2020 and on to 2021 and how COVID will affect the budget and new contracts!

Mike Rizzo seated with Dave Martinez; Photo by Andrew Lang for TalkNats

We are officially in the Washington Nationals off-season. It should be a “glass half full” vision of the future if you are an optimist. A sixty game stretch should have been an hors d’oeuvre to a main course of ribeye steaks. Last year’s record at this mark was 27-33 compared to 26-34 this year and a one bounce difference would give you essentially identical records.

“I talked to some of the guys and I said, ‘Hey, let’s remember what we did in 2019. Don’t worry about what we did in 2020. There’s no telling what would have happened in 162 games,’ ” manager Dave Martinez told the players. “I want these guys not to dwell on this season, but yet to take it for what it’s worth. Go home and rest, and like I said, learn from it, and build from it, and then come back and be ready to go.”

You know something — Davey is spot on with the realities of the situations. If this was a 162 game season, Stephen Strasburg might have returned and certainly Starlin Castro would have been back. Sean Doolittle and Tanner Rainey might have returned to a stacked bullpen. The other starting pitchers had just gotten into a groove and the 2020 Nats finished their season winning 7-of-9 games. You could feel some magic when Yadiel Hernandez hit that 2-run walk-off on Tuesday and Andrew Stevenson hit two home runs off of Jacob deGrom on Saturday with one of them being a rare inside-the-park homer. Coincidentally, last year in the 61st game, Trea Turner hit a 2-run walk-off home run to beat the White Sox.

“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible,” Ray Kinsella said in the Field Of Dreams movie.

If you believe in the cosmic tumblers clicking into place, the future will be bright. The short-term reality — not so much.

This off-season will be unique, and the COVID issue is not going away any time soon. Baseball’s revenue drain in 2020 will carry into 2021, and that will affect everything from contract extensions to arbitration negotiations to free agency. The smart teams will adapt and cashflow will be the focus.

“We will hope for the best on 2021 spending levels. The reality of the situation is that all teams know that 2021 revenues will be impacted, again. I think we will be smart enough to make the cashflow work to allow us to acquire players,” a Nats source told me.

Basically what that means is that the team knows they will have 2021 cashflow constraints after the team just lost what we can imagine was near $100 million this year, and fans might not be back for 2021. On top of that, the MASN situation still has not been settled, and no naming rights were sold for the stadium. The windfall after a World Series win never happened due to COVID. When the Lerners agreed to pay Strasburg $245 million last year, they did not know COVID was going to hit. Now they know they have to adapt to the reality of the situation as we were told. We have heard those words before.

The CBT limit for 2021 is $210 million and we anticipate the Nats will be around $160 million after all of the options are declined, non-tenders are finalized, and DFA’s are done.

We put out a 10-point plan of priorities going forward, and our Nº 1 on the list was Davey’s return for 2021 and that we put the check mark next to. The next priority is getting Trea Turner extended for the long-term. If cashflow meets reality, would he defer a big chunk of money from 2021? In arb, he might only get $10.5 to $12 million. Would he take that sum for more money on the back-end? This is how deals probably will need to be done to work. It is almost inevitable that teams will lose money again if stadiums are not opened fully, and even if they are — there will be fans who will not feel safe to attend games. Again, the reality of the situation.

“You look at each [player] individually and separately,” Mike Rizzo said over the weekend. “I wouldn’t put a whole lot of weight into if they were with us in 2019 or not. To me, 2021’s a different season. The players have [all] responded differently. What type of injuries do they have? What’s the long-term prognosis of those injuries, and that type of thing. What does the system look like at that particular position to take over a veteran player? We take all of that into account when we create rosters.”

Roster creation will be a work in progress. Martinez and Rizzo will be sitting down this week to discuss players and plans, and Mike Rizzo will be meeting with ownership as well to discuss the budget.

“Mike and I are going to sit down this week and talk about a lot of different things and put our heads together and see what we want to do and which direction we want to do it in,” Martinez said.

“Obviously you guys know that I strongly believe in pitching and defense. But without starting pitching it’s hard to win championships, we proved that in 2019, so Rizzo and I are going to have conversations.”

“And we’ll go from there and put together a wish-list of players we want to try acquire via trade or via free agency, and then we’ll go from there, but there’s always room to improve, as you know, every year is different, and we’re going to do the best we can to put a roster together so that we can compete in 2021 and win.”

Ah yes, the wish-list of players. We have a few names for you.

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