The postseason just started and four teams got eliminated in less than 36 hours. There are now 22-teams that are setting tee times today. Eight teams are still standing.
Our Washington Nationals are doing a lengthy housecleaning and expect a few more changes before General Manager Mike Rizzo and his field manager, Dave Martinez, start hiring new people to fill in the vacancies. Off-the-field, the biggest spot to fill is the VP Director of Player Development vacancy after De Jon Watson was not retained. His contract ran out, and he was not extended. Same with a few of his minor league coaches and one coordinator.
Of course most people here want to see big upgrades on the big league roster. Better players translating into more wins. That will take a financial commitment from ownership, and while principal owner Mark Lerner said he isn’t sure if it is the right time — he is leaving tis to Rizzo’s discretion. So Rizzo needs to get it done.
After over a decade of the Nats being at the top of the free agent discussions from 2010-2019, they are at a transitional point of their rebuild. Is it the right time to increase payroll for a significant free agent like Mark’s father, Ted Lerner, did 13-years ago when the Nats were able to ink Jayson Werth at the start of the 2010 Winter Meetings for a spot on the 2011 team. That is the $100 million question that none of us have the answer to.
Priority #1: Get at least one MAJOR upgrade for the starting rotation. This is the year to find a No. 1 pitcher. There are a few that would fit — and yes, they will cost a lot of money. This is by far the team’s biggest need. Last year, they signed Trevor Williams to a two-year deal, and it just did not work as he pitched to an awful 5.55 ERA. Martinez put it right out there last year on what he wanted:
“So you’re talking about adding maybe one or two more starters,” Martinez said. “We’re going into the winter with a lot of different areas that we need to fix.”
They same could be said for this year.
Priority #2: Hire a superstar to replace De Jon Watson’s spot at the top of the player development department. This is a key to the future to have a proven person who can move this forward.
Priority #3: It is time to move on from pitching coach Jim Hickey and hitting coach Darnell Coles if for nothing else than to get new voices in there. You need a pitching coach who understands the pitching lab approach with analytics and spin rates and pitch types that work.
On the hitting side, this team needs to hit more home runs, and take more walks. The days of thinking you are getting a fastball down the middle in a 2-0 count is so 1990’s. Too many lost opportunities. Some of the issue is the quality of the players, and some of it is the message from those who are supposed to be teaching these students.
Priority #4: Look to sign CJ Abrams long-term. Yes, this was a priority last year and did not get done. Try again.
Priority #5: Spend money — but spend it wisely. In the short-term, the only way to fix this sooner than later is to spend. By our count based on the current CBT formula, the Nats 2024 payroll is right around $100 million in AAV and $35 million of that is for Stephen Strasburg and another $23 million for Patrick Corbin. That is a lot of wasted money. But it is what it is. Those are guaranteed contracts. Corbin will be in his final season in 2024 and Strasburg will have three years remaining. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Get that one great pitcher to add and why not go back to Jeimer Candelario who has that positional flexibility that you want. Again, the priority is a No. 1 starting pitcher first and foremost.
Priority #6: Progress with the farm system as 2024 has to be a season for progress where the Nats can start pulling star prospects like James Wood, Dylan Crews, and Brady House from their pool to make this MLB team better.
Priority #7: Current ownership and the front office owe it to these fans to improve over the 2023 season. With 71 wins in the books for 2023, what is next? Some history, the 2010 team finished with 69 wins, and the 2011 Nats went on to win 80 games. But there also has to be a better message from ownership and the front office to turn the constant tide of negativity that surrounds this team too often. That is where public relations and marketing is not doing their job.
These priorities will change and evolve. The good news is there are no tough choices with free agents leaving. There has already been a purge. Changes were needed, and many changes were already made.