If you look closely among the wreckage of the 2021 Washington Nationals baseball team, you will find some silver linings there. Just keep an optimist’s eye that the cream rises to the top even in that bad cup of java.
As you sift through any site after a disaster for valuables and other pieces you can salvage, this team has some gems showing up if you look at it. Be it Josiah Gray or Luis Garcia and maybe even Yadiel Hernandez — some guys are showing that they want a spot on this team in the 2022 season. It will be a “transitional” year as the team finds its footing and tries to figure out their identity.
We also have to face the reality of the situation that with any
rebuild retool, you have to know that your foundation is sound to build on. When Stephen Strasburg returns off of the 60-day IL from his thoracic outlet surgery, he is the largest part of this and will be put under the microscope. He is the key to it all because he is paid 1/6th of the entire payroll if the team spends $210 million. If the team spends $140 million, Stras will be 25% of that payroll. That’s the issue. You have to deal with it. He is like the sinkhole on your building site that you have to address. There is no way around it. With any luck, Strasburg will snap back into form and be the ace we saw in 2019. But the reality is that pitchers have mixed resulted returning from TOS.
Yes, the reality is that a big part of this retool is a number’s game with the payroll. With the $35 million invested in just Stras, and another $24 million invested in Patrick Corbin who you also can’t DFA, the team has just under $60 million in payroll in that duo. Will Harris is owed $8 million for next year with his return being questionable due to his own thoracic outlet surgery. The Nats find themselves with nearly $70 million invested in those three pitchers and that is where the reality starts for general manager Mike Rizzo. This is why the sell-off was needed. The landscape was clear.
“We have to … retool this thing, to get back in the hunt, and win some more championships. That’s our goal,” Rizzo said last week.
Yes, Rizzo has been using that “retool” word, and he will have to also evaluate players who will not and should not be back. The farm system also has to start creating more future stars. For a nice jolt of optimism, Keith Law at The Athletic wrote this:
“This was my No. 30 system coming into the year, but it’s moved up into the middle tier already, and that’s without any contributions from two of their top three prospects leading into 2021.”
The two players who Law spoke to who have not contributed are Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. They have both dealt with injuries. On the good side, Cade Cavalli and Keibert Ruiz continue to climb the prospect charts. The Nats also have their first round pick from this year, Brady House, in West Palm Beach as he gets indoctrinated into the system. The farm system and player development has to be part of the plan for the future of this team. You have to infuse young players into the big leagues while they are making league minimum to help balance the payroll and of course — they must make positive impacts.
“We have a plan in place. Timetables are tricky,” Rizzo said last week. “We are ready to build that next championship caliber club. We are positioned much better today then we were before the trade deadline to contend for a long period of time.”
The plan is in place. How long will it take to get back to the next championship is an unknown at this point. Be patient and let Rizzo do his thing.
“The worst possible thing is to sustain mediocrity,” Mike Rizzo said on a ZOOM call last week with season ticket holders. “We had a tough decision to make. …We didn’t feel like we were one player or two players away from winning a World Series at that time. … We felt no shame in taking a step back to take two steps forward in the near future to build this thing back up the right way.”
Free agency will be loaded with stars available to the highest bidder. If Josh Bell is not retained, the Nats will go into the offseason with an approximate CBT payroll of $117 million. Spend $70 million in free agency and all of a sudden that building site might start looking good. It is a step forward and cash can buy the luxuries that your farm system cannot produce.