Ownership and the priorities as we move forward for the Nats.

Pictured (L-R) Maryland Governor Wes Moore, Nationals’ principal owner Mark Lerner, Kevin Plank of Under Armour; (Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats)

After the shocking news of the passing of Ted Lerner on Sunday at the age of 97, it sets the stage for more uncertainty going forward with the team’s ownership. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but Mark Lerner was installed as the team’s principal owner back in 2018 and still in charge today. The estate of Ted Lerner could be telling as that might dictate the direction. So for discussions to come forward, we will have to see what happens.

There will be much unknowns, and as such, we will wait and see. For the team, patience is a virtue in a rebuild. But having a plan is more important for success. And Washington Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo assured the fans that he has a plan. Riz was the assistant G.M. during the first rebuild back in the years of 2006-2008, and from 2009-2011, Rizzo was front and center as the general manager after his predecessor, Jim Bowden, resigned. Usually you learn what went right and what went wrong the first time around. That is the advantage that Rizzo has right now. The player names might be different, but the game still has five starting pitchers and eight starting position players.

“The plan is to reboot this thing in a quick manner,” Rizzo said in May of last year.

Looking at that 2006-2012 timeline from last to first took seven years. The Lerner’s first year of ownership was in 2007. If this year is the equivalent to 2010 in this current rebuild, then this next offseason would be the time to expand payroll just as the Nats did prior to the 2011 season. Back then, the Nats jumped from last place in 2010 to third place in 2011, and finished one game under .500 on their way to their first NL East division title in 2012 with a 98-64 record.

In the Nationals’ history, Rizzo has lived through this before. Truth be told, this current farm system is better now as compared to that 2010 time period. That farm system going into 2010 was barren at the time as Bryce Harper was drafted in July of that year. The MLB roster had four core players aged 25 and younger in Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ian Desmond. Rizzo made a deadline trade to bring in Wilson Ramos to be that fifth key piece. Anthony Rendon was not even added until the 2011 draft.

“This is the most lush and successful prospect list that we’ve ever had,” Rizzo said. “It’s the most talented players we’ve ever had in the farm system at one time.”

Emphasis on the word ‘ever’ by Rizzo. He is not wrong. Look at this current list:

There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green, Cade Cavalli, Brady House and Jarlin Susana, plus the Nats will be picking at №2 in this year’s draft.

Also keep in mind, that the Nats’ have several core players aged 25-and-under much like that 2010 team when Strasburg and Ramos first debuted for that team. The Nats have MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, and CJ Abrams with Cavalli in the wings. Very similarly, the core is built up in the middle and in the pitching staff.

So what are the priorities going forward for this team? Stay patient and let the plan work. It has to take time like a fine wine to get the prospects to age properly.

Priority 1: Let the prospects develop. This takes time and good teachers to maximize this most important part of the process. This is year two for the De Jon Watson plan at the helm of the development system. With six top prospects and Cristhian Vaquero just outside the Top-100, it will be imperative to develop these players to their full potential as well as so many of the other prospects.

Priority 2: The 2023 roster. This coaching staff has a young core of players that must take the next step forward in getting better. Projections range on how many wins this team should have by the end of the season. FanGraphs has the team today at 67 wins. That would put the team at a 67-95 record and seems like a good target to try to beat.

Too many people forget that Gore was ranked №5 or 6 by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus just two years ago. He must show that he can stay healthy. By the same evaluators, Abrams was ranked №9 to 11 a year ago. Ruiz was №11 just a year ago with Baseball America. Gray was a Top-100 prospect before the 2021 season, and Garcia was Top-100 by all evaluators before the 2019 season.

With those pedigrees, the coaching staff must do a better job to get these players to excel.

Priority 3: The ownership issue. We are in month 11 of the team being for sale. The passing of Ted Lerner could complicate or simplify the situation. We will wait and see on this. One way or another this Nationals’ franchise needs ownership that is committed to the plan and will back it up with the resources necessary to move forward in the next offseason.

Priority 4: The 2023 MLB Draft. Rizzo will have the №2 pick in the draft and has to choose the player to be a future superstar and cornerstone of this next great team. With the new CBA and drafting rules, the team cannot pick higher than 10th in next year’s draft. Tanking does no good anymore in trying to obtain a better draft position.

Priority 5: The MASN situation. We can only hope that the current legal debacle with MASN finds its way in favor of the Nats and the team has a clearer path to its financial freedoms with respect to getting paid fair market value.

Priority 6: Lame duck GM/Manager/Coaches. Basically the entire system is working on one-year deals. For continuity and at the very least, it would probably be smart to work out a new deal for general manager Mike Rizzo.

Priority 7: Extending the young core. Maybe it is too early to discuss this. But the early bird gets the worm. The team has not been good on extending core players except for with Zimmerman and Strasburg. Yes, for those who don’t remember, Strasburg extended his first contract and opted-out after the 2019 season. Is it time to look at Abrams as an extension candidate?

Priority 8: Being in a position to sign an ace pitcher. Okay, this is a priority for nine months from now to get an ace pitcher in free agency. This has to go back to Priority №3 of a committed ownership group that is willing to spend the big bucks. It is going to be the right time to add at least one key long-term player like the team did with Jayson Werth prior to the 2011 season. Some might say the team has to spend on more than an ace pitcher for short-term needs. By spending big on an ace pitcher, it will signal to the players, the baseball world, and fans that this is a team committed to winning, again. Of course everything has to progress on the first two priorities on this list.

Priority 9: A better fan experience. Usually winning automatically is the psychological healer in making the fan experience better, but when you’re losing, the team has to find other ways to make it better for the fans. The team is trying to hire a new Chief Marketing Officer and this could be the start in bringing in someone who can lead the charge on this.

Priority 10: Anything else? What did we miss on the priority list?

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