It was October 18th, 1968. Major league baseball held its expansion draft to build the initial rosters for the Expos, Padres, Royals and the Seattle Pilots. The four new MLB teams were allowed to pick unprotected players from the other teams in their league only (The 2 leagues operated as separate entities with their own league presidents. Interleague play was decades away).
Unlike recent drafts, teams got to protect pretty much anyone except over-the-hill vets, and the never-has-been prospects etc. It was not a great haul for any of the four new teams. I recall a quote I heard back then but I can’t remember who said it : ‘Thanksgiving is coming and the Expos and Padres just got 25 turkeys each’. The weak expansion draft system had the expected results and both the Expos and Padres won only 52 games in their initial year.
The point of this story is that the 2022 Washington Nationals, 3 years after having won the World series, won 3 more games than those pathetic expansion teams of 53 years ago. We’ve dissected the Nats performance every which way possible, and yet, I still find myself asking the following question: ‘is 55 wins acceptable in any circumstance?’ Does any standard permit the return of everyone responsible for this debacle? Rhetorically, would any other organization tolerate such results? We know the answer is yes and no and depends on the situation and circumstances.
The product on the field is a combination of the work of the GM and his reports as well as the development staff throughout the organization, and the major league coaches up to and including the field manager. So if the 1st group is responsible in selecting the players, the last group in deploying the players the 1st group gathered, and the middle group in preparing and teaching the young players, then the fault of 55 wins lies within the total set somewhere. It’s a zero sum game, unless you have ridiculously bad injury luck there can be no other excuses.
One reasonably popular response is that the team is in a total rebuild which can be traced back to August 2021 after the Max Scherzer and Trea Turner trades that unofficially started the rebuild, and therefore the record is completely irrelevant. I get this take, but for me as someone who has been a fan for a bunch of decades, I contend that there are no circumstances which permit you to stick it to the fans in such a terrible way. In other words in this era off baseball, you should win 70 games regardless with some level of competence, the 1970 Expos won 73 games in their 2nd year.
So, who is to blame? Well, there’s enough blame to go around. Mike Rizzo’s org gets a fair chunk of the blame but in fairness Rizzo built a decade long top contender and World Series champion. Clearly he knows a little about how to do this even if some horrible drafting can be put squarely on his lap. Rizzo had a top-to-bottom overhaul of the development group which is a year old, and they get an easy pass until and unless they prove unable to develop what is considered a good stable of prospects.
This leads us to the coaching at the major league level. The big defense is of course that they have a world title under their belts, and that’s not something that can be ignored but there are two big reasons that Dave Martinez et al have to wear this. Firstly, the team has underperformed tremendously in 4 out of his 5 years; most management types in any industry don’t get so much rope. Secondly and perhaps more alarming is the rate of prospect stalls and regressions since 2019. It can’t be acceptable that one player after another has the same issues year after year after mastering the minor league levels. Something has been systemically wrong at the major league level.
Whether it’s because of ownership uncertainty or not the entire band is returning in 2023, with a couple of new graduates and a couple of sophomores this is a massive year for major league level development. I only hope to be proven wrong in my concerns because the alternative is pretty bleak.