Back To The Future is all about the starting pitchers and the willingness to spend!

In 2009, the Washington Nationals were in the enviable draft position to select the most coveted starting pitcher in decades, and add an ace to their staff. The young San Diego State pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, was a game-changer for this losing franchise. Remember, Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League baseball. All Senators fans knew that — and most Nationals fans just accepted it as fact. But Strasburg changed the narrative. His 2010 MLB debut was pure electricity. Two years later, the Nats won the NL East pennant.

Those 2012-2014 teams had three aces with Strasburg, and homegrown bulldog Jordan Zimmermann, and the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez through Rizzo’s first blockbuster trade. Three aces is a luxury, and the Nats’ owner at the time, Ted Lerner, decided that four aces could only be beat by a Royal Flush — and he broke the bank in signing Max Scherzer to a record breaking contract for a pitcher at the time in a $210 million shocker in 2015.

Signing Scherzer was an early 90th birthday present for Lerner, and that gift was timely as you have to know your actuarial odds that people who have lived for nine decades are numbered in their remaining days, weeks, months and years. To hoist a World Series trophy was always his dream. Lerner was conceived four months after Washington won its first and only World Series in 1924 — this year is the 100 year anniversary.

It took a while for Lerner’s team to win their World Series because they got royal flushed down the golden throne in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. We were haunted by Bryce Harper‘s cocky, “Where’s my ring” in 2015, and the lessons we learned is baseball is not played on paper or in computer projections. TV personality, Chris Rose, on his former MLB Network show had picked the Nats to win every one of those years, and wisely stuck with the Nats as his pick in 2019.

Manager Dave Martinez, a born optimist, and the manager of the 2019 World Series team had a Q&A with, and Martinez thinks that next World Series with the Nationals is coming “real soon.”

“I built unbelievable relationships with the front office and ownership. It means a lot to me.”

“It has been very special around here. We were able to do something that people dream of, and that’s winning a championship together [in 2019].”

“We are going to win another one real soon.”

— Martinez said to

Does Martinez have to take you back to the future when he said that “bumpy roads lead to beautiful places?” We are on a bumpy road. The in-fighting in the fanbase is terrible, and what appeared to be optimism about expanding payroll this year evaporated. The current roster for Martinez is not good on paper, and so much so that  PECOTA projections has Martinez’s 2024 squad at 104.1 losses. But Martinez wisely said that baseball is played by athletes — not computer projections. We all know what the paper said in 2015 with that Nationals’ team. Last year, Martinez’s team beat all expectations and projections and only lost 91 games.

General Manager Mike Rizzo basically promised the fans and Martinez that he would upgrade the starting rotation — but then last week dropped a bombshell that the team failed to get that pitcher they wanted. Most fingers were pointed straight at principal owner Mark Lerner since he said the resources would be there for Rizzo to spend.

“I just couldn’t find that starting pitcher that was going to impact us at this time, for not only the right amount of years — but the right salary at this time.”

— Rizzo said last week

That was pothole in the bumpy road when Rizzo said that — it sent social media into a frenzy. The optimist could say the Nationals were 35-37 in the second half last year while pitching Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, Patrick Corbin, and Trevor Williams, and should they not be better than that this year with an extra year to grow as starting pitchers? Theoretically for the younger pitchers, you would hope that is the case that they are on a curve of progression, and Williams was actually good in April and May when he had a 4.10 and a 3.77 ERA in those two months.

You know Martinez and Rizzo are hearing much of the outside noise and the discontent with the Lerner ownership group, because at the end of the day, fans always need someone or something to blame, even before the games are played. Martinez just asks that you let it play out before you judge. Again, the Nats’ manager is an optimist and believes in his players.

 “I look at some of our young kids, I look at the people I work with. We are very passionate about the game and organization. I just think it’s just a matter of time. We have some young players who are unbelievable. Mike Rizzo has done a great job filling in some of the blanks. It’s just a matter of time before our guys develop and understand they can compete and win here.”

“We have some now like CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, who just scratched the surface for us last year. Jackson Rutledge came up for a little bit last year. Now we have guys like Zach Brzykcy and James Wood. We have Dylan Crews. The list goes on. You might see some of those guys this year. We are very excited about these guys.”

— Martinez told

The high-end prospect talent starts with Wood and Crews, and the position players on the top prospect list is impressive. Yes, the list goes on. What is missing is there is no ace like Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, or Scherzer on the radar at this time.

Unless you draft or develop from within, you either go the trade route or through free agency to find your ace. It can be done. But it takes time and skill and some luck to get there.

“Starting pitching is king. Our philosophy is pitching, defense, athleticism. That’s how we’ve won. When we put our guy on the mound [and he], each day, gives us a chance to win, you’ve created yourself a chance to have a really good ballclub and play deep into October.”

“That’s our philosophy … for the marathon that is the season, you better have some starters that you can run out there — and give you a chance to win each and every day. That’s what we’ve always tried to do here.”

— Rizzo said days before he signed Patrick Corbin in free agency

That is how the Nationals have always won under the Lerner/Rizzo teams with great starting pitching, and when they lost, it was because that pitching was not good enough. Gore was drafted third overall in the first round of the 2017 draft straight out of Whiteville High School in North Carolina. He was supposed to be an ace, and the Padres traded him to the Nats in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade. The Nats also have first rounders in Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge as depth right now, and homegrown Jake Irvin is proving to be a starter who has a possibility. Josiah Gray was acquired from the Dodgers in the Scherzer/Trea Turner trade along with Ruiz. It was Gray who was the Nats’ lone All-Star in 2023. Could one of these aforementioned pitchers turn into an ace or at least top of the rotation pitchers?

The Nats draft at No. 10 this year, and this is shaping up to be a chance to pickup another future star through the draft and homegrown development. But can the rebuild be shortened by ownership spending in free agency? Sometimes you never hear about the players that were pursued in free agency and not signed. Before the 2009 season, Ted Lerner made the largest off to free agent Mark Teixeira, and many fans called it BS. Years later, former Nats GM, Jim Bowden, said the offer was legit but Teixeira was willing to take less to go to the Yankees. Later that year the Nats drafted Strasburg, and before the 2011 signed their biggest free agent deal ever for Jayson Werth. That sped up the rebuild process to the point that the Nats were actually contending that season and finished with 80-wins.

Part of the process is the willingness to spend to win, and also have the negotiating skills to get the players you want to sign with your team. Will Lerner follow what his father did and spend wisely because this team has to find that magic and go back to the future.

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