It is no secret that the Washington Nationals and their President of Baseball Operations and GM, Mike Rizzo, and manager Dave Martinez are in their final year of their current contracts. Both got sizeable raises after they jointly won the 2019 World Series, and last year their team options were both picked up for this 2023 season. While their salaries are not public information — both are thought to be getting compensated in the Top-5 in all of baseball.
After last night’s win, we saw Martinez adeptly make managerial moves that proved crucial in winning the game. That was good to see from the Nats’ skipper who too often is criticized for waiting too long to pull a tiring or ineffective starting pitcher. It also helped that Carl Edwards Jr. stepped up big for the team last night.
Part of the continual blame game is that players do not always step up. There is certainly a personnel issue on the team from the standpoint that the team lacked a competent front of the bullpen and had to rely on a Rule-5 pitcher, a weak lefty, and an unproven reliever without MLB experience. The only one of those three that really earned the spot was Hobie Harris, and the pressure of MLB leveraged situations seemed to affect him. Both Harris and Anthony Banda are back in Triple-A, but Rule-5 reliever, Thaddeus Ward with his 6.22 FIP, while only appearing in low leverage spots. The use and usage of the bullpen arms as well as starters get questioned by most fanbases — so this is nothing new. Part of the problem was building starter’s depth lacked a firm sixth and seventh starters in case pitchers went down. Per usual, it happened as Cade Cavalli blew out his UCL in Spring Training, and the best laid plans went up in smoke.
Martinez’s job is to get the most out of the roster he is given. Rizzo’s job is to build the best roster he can within the budget restraints he is given. Often managers feel like they are short-changed — but look what Kevin Cash does in Tampa, and Brandon Hyde in Baltimore. Both have much smaller payrolls than Washington, and both teams are one and two respectively for the best records in baseball.
Except for the Dodgers winning the World Series in 2020, you would have to go back to 2009 to the Yankees for the team with the largest payroll as the winner of the World Series. In that span you have the Kansas City Royals with a World Series win, and Cleveland and Tampa as World Series runner-ups. It just proves that money can’t always buy happiness.
The GM and manager are crucial to optimizing their team’s chances on winning as they work together. Right now, the Nats are probably over-achieving, but it also seems like they left wins on the cutting room floor. That’s the frustrating point as those blow-saves and many of those nine bullpen losses seemed avoidable as well as the times the offense seemingly blew chances to push across runs.
Every team goes through those frustrating losses. When you follow one team, it leads to that tunnel vision. The Yankees gave up eight runs in an inning yesterday, the Diamondbacks blew a two-run lead in the ninth, and the Braves walked-off on the Dodgers. In every baseball game, one team has to lose. Some just lose less than others. The Nationals have shown that they can come-from-behind to win games, and they have been described by many as a “scrappy” team.
Opinions will vary on what the Lerner ownership group should do with Rizzo. Everyone knows he can build a winner based on a bloated payroll. Any GM can do that. The Nats payroll actually blew up when the late Ted Lerner agreed to a deal for Max Scherzer that put the payroll over the CBT cap. What GM would turn that deal down when the owner wants to do it? That’s a rhetorical question. Can Rizzo build a winner where ownership can do it and still turn a profit? That is a real issue with these Washington Nationals. They have the worst TV deal in baseball per their market size. This team should be operating on large market revenues, yet they don’t, because of the MASN television issues and getting paid what the owners considered as fair market value. In the NL East, the Nats are only ahead of the Marlins in revenue. It’s a competitive disadvantage.
Insult to injury is that the team is carrying dead payroll of $35 million a year, nearly one-third of their total spend this year, for Stephen Strasburg. That contract won’t expire until after the 2026 season. That will certainly help — but for now it hurts. Just think what you could buy for that $35 million.
“There’s a lot of positive energy right now. You can see some light at the end of the tunnel.”— general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier as quoted by Thomas Boswell
So what should Lerner do with Rizzo? My opinion is that you give him a new contract, and hope Rebuild No. 2 is more successful that the first one. What do you do with Martinez? My opinion is ownership should step aside and allow Martinez’s boss, Rizzo, to be the sole decision maker.
Baseball, like life, does not go by a script. And baseball only has one winner each year. By the end of October, twenty-six teams are already planning their offseason and playing golf, while the Final-Four of baseball plays out to through the championship series, and into the World Series. The Washington Nationals will be planning their offseason at some point in October. They were not built for a postseason push, but somehow the Nationals are only 3.5 games from a Wild Card spot.