Single best ideas from the Nats’ front office

Photo by Laura Peebles for TalkNats

In the old days, they called it ‘brainstorming’ and that has evolved in front offices that go around the table for single best ideas for the coming season. Open Innovation is a techie concept, but it works with any type of entity including baseball teams. The question is always, how do you make your baseball team better on a budget? The Washington Nationals president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo has to look up and down his system to make changes for the better. 

“A richer diversity of ideas makes the single best idea even better, it’s a statistical principal. Open Innovation brings a wider selection of potential products, methods and ideas to the company doing the searching, and that wider diversity of ideas helps ensure that the single best idea of the bunch is even better,” by Andrew King and Karim R. Lakhani.

In their MIT Sloan Management Review article, Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas (Fall, 2013, pp. 41 – 47). King and Lakhani wrote that Open Innovation is a paradigm that assumes that entities can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths. Is it time to bring in new voices into the Washington Nationals board room like consultants?

If you sent some external consultants into the Nats’ front office, what conclusions would they come to? Would they flag the development system as the reason for the recent failures or would it be the drafting of players? Would they be critical of the Nats decisions in free agency like Stephen Strasburg’s contract? The low hanging fruit is easy to go after to see what hasn’t worked, but fixing it for the future is what has proven to be difficult. These are not new problems. Years of poor decisions compounded, and were not fixed. The competition blew by the Nats, and that’s why the team is in the position they are right now.

Looking at the Nats’ farm system, there are good players who will arrive in due time. The issue is you cannot rush these young players, and how do you best bridge the gap from the team you have now to piece it all together? But the biggest fear we all have is whether or not the Nats development system has been fixed after De Jon Watson was installed last year. Time will tell. The recent gains to the farm system was through acquisitions of players in the blockbuster Juan Soto trade to the Padres. We do not know if Watson’s group has improved over the previous group because the proof as they say is in the pudding. We won’t know for years if Watson has fixed it.

Even looking at the coaching staffs at the MLB and minor league levels, are there better coaches that the team could bring in to make a difference for the team? It is a fair question to ask, even though manager Dave Martinez has indicated he is bringing his entire coaching staff, some who have been part of the 204 losses over the past two seasons.

Change is often good for a failing entity because staying with mediocrity and accepting failure should not be a viable option. But change for the sake of change is also a bad idea. This is a good article from McKinsey & Company on change implementation in the corporate world.

Again, there is no immediate fix short of spending your way out of the doldrums. While that could help in the short-term, it is usually a flawed strategy in the long-term. We will see how it works for the Philadelphia Phillies who have been on a spending spree for three years, and it finally paid-off that they made it to the NLCS this year.

But will it work long-term for the Phillies? Bryce Harper is now 30 years old. Their top two pitchers are only controlled together for one more season. We will see. An 11-year postseason drought turned into a playoff chance — only because MLB added an extra Wild Card team this year — and the Phillies were the lucky recipient of MLB’s gift. The 87-75 team in the regular season is making the most of their opportunity so far.

The budget will set the constraints on how much the Nats can spend in free agency. But don’t expect them to spend wildly in free agency. With four more years on Strasburg’s contract, the team will continue to carry that fiscal burden going forward. Today, Strasburg’s $35 million salary is over one-third of the team’s current payroll in total. The team will have to get creative to spend wisely and find players to bridge the gap to the future when the top prospects are ready.

What single best idea do you have for Mike Rizzo’s front office?

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