Dave Martinez wants another contract with the Nats

Going with no facial hair is Washington Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez‘s newest look. When he had his beard, it had gone all gray on his chin. Losing tends to age most people as does stress. Losing and stress usually go together. For nearly two months, the Nats have won more games than they have lost.

When you win, it is a good time to ask for a contract extension. Martinez is in his final year of team control based on the contract that he signed in 2020 that covered two years plus a team option for 2023 that the team picked up. Martinez has publicly said he wants to keep managing the Nats. He got a World Series ring in his second year at the helm, but it had been downhill from that point it has seemed when you look at missing the playoffs in 2020, and then the sell-off started in July of 2021 which led to the 107-loss season last year. General manager Mike Rizzo, who is Martinez’s boss, spoke on behalf of ownership and said they are “tired of losing games.” Truthfully, we were all tired of losing, but what do you expect from the roster that Martinez was handed to start the season? The Vegas line projected the Nats to lose 102 games this season. The pace that the team is on, Martinez’s team might not even lose 92 games!

Ownership is tired of losing games, and we’re trying to really compete to finish this year off, and go into next year with a team that we think has a chance to be a very entertaining team to watch.”

— Mike Rizzo said on MLB Network Radio before the trade deadline

On July 7, with the trade deadline weighing on the player’s minds, Joey Meneses found his swing, and the team climbed out of being 20-games under .500 from that day, and the team is on their hottest run going 19-12 and 7-games over .500 since that point. Even while losing closer Hunter Harvey to an arm injury, and arguably the team’s best player, Jeimer Candelario, to a trade to the Cubs, and watching starter Trevor Williams go 0-3 with a 7.44 ERA from that point forward — the team has been winning overall. Remove those three Williams’ losses, and the team is 19-9 in that span.

Credit to MASN broadcaster Bob Carpenter for nicknaming this team the “Scrappy Nats” because of their ability to comeback in the late innings. The team now has more walk-off wins (5) than walk-off losses (4), and just one game under .500 in one-run games at a 16-17 record. At one point this season, the Nats were six games under .500 in one-run games. The overall difference from this team being a winning team is just a swing seven games. Find seven more games that the Nats should have won, and they would be 60-59 instead of 53-66. No magic wand can fix that now. But a better bullpen would have been the easiest answer since 23 games have been lost by a bullpen that has actually improved to a 5.02 ERA.

Some would say Martinez is stuck with the hand that he has been dealt. He has to play the personnel he is given. That is true, and his job is to try to make bad situations better, while hoping that help is on the way. He cannot dial 9-1-1 for that help, rather hope that someone has figured it out in the minor leagues, or at the very least, they have figured out something to make their current roster of players better. Keibert Ruiz and CJ Abrams have both stepped up. As mentioned, Meneses has found his swing. Others are contributing enough to win games.

This might surprise you that the team’s sixth most valuable player, according to FanGraphs , is Stone Garrett. But there was also a lot of addition by subtraction, and the team got rid of most of its negative WAR via DFA or options to the minors. Seven of the team’s nine lowest WAR players were removed from the active roster, and they had a combined -3.0 WAR.

There won’t be as much roster movement after the season as you would normally expect to see. Actually, the only player due to leave for free agency is Carl Edwards Jr., and the team holds an option on Victor Robles. Other than that, there might have to be a couple of possible DFA’s if the team needs to open some roster spots, because the team will have a 40-man crunch as they will have to add back all of the 60-man IL players technically like Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Rainey, Robles, Victor Arano, and Cade Cavalli. Maybe some of these will be resolved in October, and maybe some will drag on. Rainey is set to return in a matter of weeks so they will have to clear a spot for him, sooner than later, and of course Cavalli will have to be retained. Arano could be a DFA, and who knows what happens with the Strasburg situation.

There will certainly be some roster stability going into the offseason, and the team probably does not have to make any “major” moves and that will be the main discussion going forward as to new acquisition upgrades. But the two most important pieces of instability are at the top with Martinez and Rizzo both having expiring contracts. You have to think both will be back, and if ownership gives Rizzo a larger budget to work with — this team can make some serious strides towards winning in 2024, or as the non-committal Rizzo said, “a very entertaining team to watch.”

Based on the team’s current 72-win pace, can they add +10.0 WAR through free agency or will they also count on some of the top prospects? That would turn this squad into a winner if that logic works. Of course that is all based on projections.

Let’s look at positional WAR and the Nats are 5th in catching, 16th at 1st base, 23rd at 2nd base, 6th at 3rd base, 10th at shortstop, 19th at LF, 27th at CF, 6th at RF, and 16th at DH. This will give you an idea of where the team has to improve. Part of these numbers include players that are off the roster like Corey Dickerson, Derek Hill, and Luis Garcia. Interestingly enough, Hill had a -0.5 WAR with only 50 plate appearances. So there has already been some addition by subtraction as previously mentioned. But the team’s best position was 3rd base, and that was manned by Candelario for most of the season, and he was already traded.

Much will be dependent on how Jake Alu and Blake Rutherford do with their time in the big leagues. If they do well, there could be less holes to fill. Right now, third base, second base, and center field could all be holes. That is nothing compared to the gaping hole that needs to be filled at the top of the starting rotation. This team has not had a true No. 1 pitcher since Max Scherzer was traded in mid-2021.

So it looks like the team has to take care of the GM, Manager, No. 1 starter, and maybe three positions in the field for upgrade to include third base, second base, and center field. If ownership treats this offseason like they did after the 2010 season, this will be a lot more entertaining!

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