The Washington Nationals added an experienced executive in Dan Jennings yesterday, making the pressure to win even higher for the front office.
The Washington Nationals have been relatively quiet this offseason despite the fact that several high-profile players left the team via free agency after the 2015 season. While the Nationals haven’t made any major free agent acquisitions, they’ve slowly satisfied every need they had going into the offseason.
The team brought in Daniel Murphy to play second base — a position left vacant by the trade that sent Yunel Escobar to the Angels. They’ve also revamped the bullpen with the likes of Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Trevor Gott and Yusmeiro Petit. Last night, the Nationals killed multiple birds with one stone by trading Drew Storen to Toronto for Ben Revere — satisfying the need for a left-handed hitting outfielder and diminishing the surplus in the bullpen, while also trading a player who no longer fit with the ball club.
While the team continues to build its roster for 2016, players aren’t the only pieces the Nationals have added this offseason. Slowly and quietly, the Nationals have been rebuilding their front office this winter as well, and they made perhaps the biggest move yet yesterday by bringing in former Marlins general manager Dan Jennings.
Jennings joins the Nationals as a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo, the team announced via Twitter. According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Jennings will work as a scout and handle special assignments for the Nationals.
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Jennings had a bit of a whirlwind tenure with the Marlins. After handling multiple front office rolls since 2002, he was named the team’s general manager in 2014 and took over managerial duties after the team fired Mike Redmond last May. The Marins dismissed Jennings after the 2015 season before bringing in Don Mattingly as their new manager.
With nearly three decades of scouting and executive experience under his belt, Jennings should be a good hire for a front office that has come under fire of late.
Under Rizzo’s watch, the Nationals have risen from the cellar of the National League to perennial contenders with one of the most talented rosters and some of the best prospects in the game. But the team drastically underperformed last year and missed the postseason, despite the fact that many chose them to win the World Series during Spring Training. For all the talent the Nationals have, they’ve also failed to make it past the NLDS in both of their playoff appearances (though they’ve come painfully close).
Many also blamed Rizzo for the failed trade that brought Jonathan Papelbon to the Nationals last season. That deal backfired when once dominant closer Storen collapsed during the second half and Papelbon choked NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout skirmish late in the season.
While Rizzo’s job was probably never in real jeopardy, the team has made several moves to mix up the front office this offseason. The Nationals fired Bill Singer, director of international scouting and special assistant to Rizzo, as well as advanced scout Bob Johnson earlier this offseason. The team also reportedly pursued Dave Dombrowski — one of the best general managers in baseball — before he signed with the Red Sox earlier this offseason.
With Jennings, the Nationals gain an experienced executive who was involved with a front office that made some good moves (and a few questionable ones as well). Jennings was with the Marlins when they drafted now-superstars Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. With his years of scouting experience and the fact that he knows a rival organization quite well, Jennings should be nothing but helpful for the Nationals.
The Nationals have had a very productive offseason, and they’ve already addressed their most noticeable flaws from 2015. The team revamped the roster and brought in a new manager, and after a disappointing 2015 season, the pressure to win in 2016 will be as high as it’s ever been.
If the Nationals once again fail to live up to expectations next season, there’s a good chance the front office will be in for another makeover. And if that happens, adding an assistant to the general manager probably won’t be the biggest move the team makes. Rizzo has been one of the few mainstays in Nationals management for years. But if the team he built this offseason fails, he may very well be the next to go.