There are only 30 GM jobs in MLB, and it makes it one of the most coveted jobs in the world. In the new-age era of moneyball-to-analytics, the GM’s job spills over on many teams to almost make some of the managers into puppets — with the GMs pulling the strings. There are GMs that have overrides on lineup configurations and when to pull a starting pitcher. Mister Geppetto just has to be smart enough to know which strings to pull. Modern day managers don’t even realize how much their jobs have changed since the days when a manager like Davey Johnson was doing his own rudimentary form of analytics in the dugout — a first for a manager.
Many GMs want to shortcut the process and just spend to get to winning faster. That is short-term gain for long-term pain. Some might say that the Texas Rangers did that — but their dollars went mostly to the 60-day IL, and not to the winning product. Yes, Corey Seager worked out, and Marcus Semien to a lesser extent — but it was the under-the-radar pick-ups like Adolis Garcia, Nathan Eovaldi and the mid-season trade for Jordan Montgomery that saved them over-and-over. So when your buddy tells you that the Rangers won by spending, ask them what Jacob deGrom, Martin Perez, Jon Gray, Jake Odorizzi, Andrew Heaney, Ian Kennedy, and Chris Stratton did for that World Series win? That was nearly $100 million of worthless payroll that produced under +1.0 WAR in the second half of the season. By the way, the Mets picked up most of the expense in the Max Scherzer trade, and he ended up back on the IL in the middle of the World Series. Sometimes winning happens despite the best laid plans. Good for Texas, it worked. In a few years, some of those long-term contracts might look like the 2021 Nats.
These offseasons are viewed in real time, then relooked at down the road when we take a hindsight look at the next World Series winner and how they were built. Who gets the next Adolis and signs an Eovaldi? Some of the least sexiest signings have the most impact. The GM meetings start tomorrow and run through Thursday in Scottsdale, Arizona. During the GM meetings, trade framework between teams take some early steps, and free agent discussions begin with their agents. Of course the lights are bright at the Winter Meetings, next month, and less than a month away when they begin on December 3 in Nashville, Tennessee.
For Rizzo, his shopping list begins with a starting pitcher capable of being the team’s No. 1 in the front of the rotation. The team needs a middle of the order bat with more power in the corner infield — but probably only room for one player — and The Athletic’s Jim Bowden thinks Jeimer Candelario could be that guy for the Nats. We will see. A two-year deal for and $15 million is what Bowden predicts. I’d do that without hesitation — and I suspect his number is light. And Bowden also has Jack Flaherty as a possible landing spot for the Nats on a one year deal at $10 million with incentives. You have to hope that Rizzo has his sights on something bigger to bag for the starting rotation.
Get used to all of this talk. This is what will dominate the airwaves for the next 60-days in baseball with talks of Shohei Ohtani signings and Juan Soto trades. The Nats won’t be on those — but what about that other Japanese player? Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the under-sized Japanese right-hander, is repped by the Wasserman Agency. Bowden has him at seven years and $211 million.The Nats have Taisuke Sato on staff to help with scouting players in Asia. He was the person in charge of submitting a questionnaire for Ohtani several years ago when he was coming to America. Sato got his Master’s degree at Georgetown, and maybe he will be a key part of getting Yamamoto in a free agent shocker to the Nats.
Somehow Rizzo has to find another 14-wins to get this team into contention for 2024, just like that 2011 team that did not have the advantage of a third wild card or a farm system as “lush” as this one. The missing pieces are ace starting pitchers, and unless Rizzo wants to deplete the farm system and trade for another Gio Gonzalez type of pitcher, the team has to pay up to get their next Stephen Strasburg, and hope that the players they have like MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, and Jake Irvin, can step up to being top of the rotation pitchers. Yes, other teams have done this. This offseason is a key in the maturation of those Nats’ internal candidates. Each pitcher should be spending time in pitching labs and working on their repertoires. Gray did that last year, and pitched himself to an All-Star first half of the season.
The Nats should not be trying to spend their way to a championship at this stage. They should be making moves externally and internally to improve on their 2023 season.