Top Priorities revisited for the Nats

Screenshot modified from MLB Network

The offseason is ending in just a little over a month as Spring Training camp opens. For the Washington Nationals, the offseason has been quiet on the acquisition side of the roster. If not for Rule-5 pick Nasim Nuñez, and the free agent signings of Nick Senzel and Dylan Floro, we would have nothing so far. Just about $4.5 million in new money spent.

Our Washington Nationals did a lengthy house cleaning from the 2023 roster as well as almost a total turnover of the coaching staff and player development positions. The two coaches who survived the cuts were pitching coach Jim Hickey and hitting coach Darnell Coles.

“I love those guys. Those guys work really hard. Players really bought into what they want to do. They have gotten better, so they will be back.”

— manager Dave Martinez on Hickey and Coles

Both General Manager Mike Rizzo and his field manager, Dave Martinez, had busy offseasons to fill those vacancies. Off-the-field, the biggest spot to fill was the VP Director of Player Development vacancy after De Jon Watson was not retained, and he was replaced internally by Eddie Longosz. The amateur scouting department was beefed up from the top.

Of course most people here wanted to see impactful upgrades on the big league roster. Better players translating into more wins. So far it has been the low impact moves with Nuñez, Senzel, and Floro. So we wait, and impact moves require a sizable financial commitment from ownership

While principal owner Mark Lerner had said he wasn’t sure if this was the right time — he is leaving this to Rizzo’s discretion. So Rizzo needs to get it done.

“It’s [Mike Rizzo’s] call as to how he wants to fill the holes … a free agent or whatever, he knows the game plan he wants to follow … whatever he desires. He knows he has the resources … to build a winner.”

— Lerner said in an exclusive team interview at the end of the 2023 season

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.

Let’s revisit the offseason priorities we set back in October:

Priority #1: Get at least one MAJOR upgrade for the starting rotation. This is the year to find a No. 1 pitcher for this rotation. 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 last year. “We’re going into the winter with a lot of different areas that we need to fix.”

The same could be said for this year.

Priority #2 DONE: Hire a good replacement for 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 NOT DONE: It seemed to me, and others, as a good 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. As wr now know, that did not happen. 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. Part 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. The team did bring in Chris Johnson as assistant hitting coach.

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.

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.

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