There are many routes to building a championship team; Mike Rizzo has done it before!

Photo by Andrew Lang for TalkNats

With all of the ways there are to build a team, players come from a variety of acquisitions from drafting, international signings, waiver claims, free agent deals, and trades. For general manager Mike Rizzo, he had a good mix of ways he built that 2012 team with a low payroll to go with it. They were at $92.5 million for their ending payroll in 2012, and the two most expensive contracts were Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman — both position players. The most expensive player after that would surprise many — Edwin Jackson who was a starting pitcher via a free agent Boras signing on a one-year deal.

After Rizzo tweaked and tried different formulas every year after 2012, it became clear with the record contract given to free agent Max Scherzer in 2015 that the Nationals were going to build a championship team on pitching first and foremost. That is where Rizzo now spends his money.

The Nats spent a record amount for a starting rotation in 2019 and 2020, and even with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez, you still needed clutch hitting. The value of team balance is immeasurable as you see each postseason. If anything, the Nats showed that you need that starting pitching to do their job or you will not make the postseason as was the case in 2020.

Certainly teams have won championships on less than four aces but adding Corbin and Sanchez in 2019 paid immediate dividends for the Washington Nationals. With a bullpen that lacked depth, Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez utilized Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin in key bullpen spots in the postseason and it worked.

“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.

Can we assume Rizzo and Martinez sat down for that meeting this week? One decision made was a change with their pitching coach with Paul Menahrt. More news on that coming up.

Did Rizzo get the 2021 payroll budget from ownership? All of that will factor into how the 2021 roster will be built.

We had identified the holes and 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 nine seem reasonable for this 2021 team. Add a pitching coach as a new priority.

If it starts with starting pitching, will they bolster a starting rotation that collectively was awful in 2020? The 2020 starter’s combined ERA was an horrific 5.38 in the final tally with a won/loss record of 15-27. To extrapolate for a full-season, that is a 41-73 from the starters, and that cannot be repeated.

Getting the starting pitching fixed will be a challenge for the Nats new pitching coach. This was the worst starter’s ERA for the Nats going back to (2010 it was 4.61,  2009 and 2008 it was 4.97, 2007 it was 5.11, 2006 it was 5.37, 2005 it was 4.03) never. This was the team’s worst starter’s ERA —EVER—, and unseeded that horrible 2006 starting rotation of Ramon OrtizTony ArmasLiván HernándezMike O’Connor, and Pedro Astacio.

But the budget probably won’t allow Rizzo to pursue the best available starting pitcher in free agency, Trevor Bauer, even if he did not have a Qualified Offer attached to him. The team should be able to build mostly from within if Strasburg returns healthy and to his 2019 form. Of course you hope Scherzer and Corbin return to their 2019 form also. Somehow we do anticipate a free agent signing into Sanchez’s spot.

The run production produced by the offense fell short of projections, and there are certainly more fixes that can be made from a larger pool of talent on the free agent market.

But what about the trade market? The phone has to be ringing from rival GMs looking for talent on the Nats. During the Winter Meetings in 2014, Mike Rizzo was approached on a trade for Steven Souza Jr. His bat was quiet after his 2014 debut for the Nats but he had a highlight reel with that no-hitter saving catch for Jordan Zimmermann to close out the 2014 season. The Nats pulled of the biggest steal of a trade in the team’s history getting Joe Ross and Trea Turner in the deal for a Souza and a minor league pitcher who is already out of baseball. It actually seemed to work-out for all of the teams. The Padres got Wil Myers in that trade and with the opening at shortstop after Turner was traded, the Padres then traded James Shields for Fernando Tatis Jr.

If Rizzo gets a request for an Andrew Stevenson trade, could he find lightening in a bottle twice? Both Ross and Turner were first round draft picks and Rizzo got them for the Nats’ 6th top prospect who was not even in the Baseball America Top 100. Given that many teams will be pulling back on payroll for 2021, Stevenson would be a cost-controlled option for the Nats, but also other teams.

The trade winds could be blowing, and hopefully there is at least one trade of impact that comes Rizzo’s way along with some key free agents, and maybe the farm system will develop some more players.

All in all, the budget seems to be a key to this offseason, and then Rizzo can do his thing.



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