The offseason ends in just 10-days

Most of the Washington Nationals players and staff are taking advantage of those two-month rentals and have already taken occupancy of their Spring Training homes on Feb 1. They hope their occupancy will run through March 24 in West Palm Beach — and from there they hope to go north. On March 27, there will be 26-players loading onto their Delta chartered jet headed to Kentucky for that first game in Cincinnati for Opening Day on March 28. For now, the Nats are firming up their remaining 10-days of this offseason. The fans hope for a positive surprise.

For Nats fans, there are a lot of mixed emotions on the current roster. Owner Mark Lerner said the money would be there for his general manager Mike Rizzo to spend on what he needed. Actions speak louder than words. In total and so far, the Nats have spent $10 million in new money — that is it.

“It’s [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 season

But let’s face it, with the hopes of getting Jeimer Candelario back for third base — instead the Nats signed Nick Senzel for the bargain price of $2 million plus incentives. He hit righties last year at just .164 with a .497 OPS. That was the first gut punch. Then we hoped for Brandon Belt for first base and DH, and got Joey Gallo who hit .177 for the whole season — but at least he mashes home runs and had a .741 OPS in 2023. Both are flawed players who were top prospects at one time. Low risk, high reward. That has been Rizzo’s offseason recipe for three years running now. The fans want some sure things, and not the constant merry-go-round of reclamation projects. That is so 2007, ’08, ’09, and ’10.

Many fans feel like Lerner and Rizzo have let them down to this point on a pinky swear promise. Okay, there is still time to impress. However, let’s face it, there has not been much to cheer for this offseason unless you are a huge fan of one of the players that Rizzo added — or your allegiance is to another team.

There has been no contract extension for fan favorite CJ Abrams, or that signing we were kind of promised of a starting pitcher upgrade so we would not have to endure that Trevor Williams would be penciled in as the fifth starter after his disastrous second half of the 2023 season in which he logged a 7.43 ERA.

It was painful for the fans to watch much of last season’s rotation, and Williams apologized many times as he knew he wasn’t getting it done. Truthfully, Williams 3.93 ERA through May 31 was very serviceable — but then he unraveled and was exposed. Maybe it was the mileage on his arm, or the scouts figured him out. His ending numbers were awful. Right now, he is the 5th starter because Rizzo has not delivered on signing his replacement.

We knew we would be stuck with Patrick Corbin as a starter because the Nats would not DFA him and any part of his $140 million contract. As fans, just accept that Corbin will eat innings and pitch some games that are good enough to give the team a chance to win. On others, cover the eyes of the children who are watching as it is the groundhog day of horror movies. After five years of Corbin to this point, you know the drill.

“Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport. We’re no different. You can never have enough of it, and we’re in search of it.”

— Rizzo explained at the Winter Meetings in early December

For Corbin and Williams, this is their final year of team control, and they will be headed to free agency. After this season, Stephen Strasburg will be owed $70 million on his final two years of his contract. Many feel that whether Lerner is the owner or not in the next offseason, that the team will be in great shape to take advantage of their young prospects, young core players, and the chance to spend serious money in the offseason before the 2025 season. But that is hope. That is all we have as fans. We cannot force the owners to make moves. They have to want to do it.

There are fans who feel they were lied to or deceived — and to be fair, it is best to wait for all the final chess moves to be made before passing a final judgment. Hyun Jin Ryu, a name we have said was connected to the Nats, is still unsigned, and he could turn this D+ of an offseason to a C+. Maybe after that, Abrams is extended and we finish at a B+. Feeling like the grass is greener on the other side is a normal reaction. Plenty of Nats fans felt this way in 2010. Manager Dave Martinez said it right, “Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.” Friends, we are hitting bumps and D.C. potholes.

On top of all of this, another gut punch was delivered yesterday by Baseball America in dropping the Nats’ farm system from 7th best last year to middle of the road this year at No. 15. Saturday was a day of debate on what that actually meant. To remind you, Baseball America’s ranks of the Nats farm before 2023 had the farm at 26 in 2022, and dead last in 2021. That was hitting rock bottom. Rizzo parted ways with his previous head of player development, De Jon Watson, after the 2023 season. Is Rizzo laughing now?

“…Our objective we have is to win championships — not to be №1 in Baseball America.”

— Rizzo said to applause and laughs by the fans gathered at the Ballpark Bash event in 2022

But the Nats still have some of the best prospects in baseball, and many of them got big league invites to Spring Training camp. Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House, and Robert Hassell will all be there. They are the future. If the Nats do as well as they did with former top prospects like Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bryce Harper, then that is going to be a heck of a ride. While Rizzo’s history isn’t great with lower level draft picks, his record is great with top of the draft picks. What is noticeably missing is that top pitching prospect like the Nats had with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Maybe Cade Cavalli and Jake Bennett step up again when healthy.

So yes, hope springs eternal.

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