The Washington Nationals refused to mortgage their future to win now. The message is clear. This team will contend for a long time.
On trade deadline day, the Washington Nationals protected their future.
FanRag’s Jon Heyman wrote on Thursday the Nats and San Diego Padres held talks over left-hander Brad Hand. After rebuffing the Padres on Victor Robles and Juan Soto, two players Washington considers untouchable, the focus shifted to Carter Kieboom.
Again, the Nats said no and turned their attention to the Minnesota Twins’ closer, Brandon Kintzler. Although they gave up prospect Tyler Watson and slot money for the deal, Watson is still in A-ball a few years away from any Major League Baseball club.
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As much as the team and you want to win now, holding on to the top prospects in the organization sends a definitive message for the future. The Nats intend to compete for the long haul, with or without Bryce Harper after 2018.
Hand was the best reliever at the end of the deadline period on the market outside of Baltimore. The bullpen struggles grab as much on the internet as Congress in DC. Yet, President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo made quiet moves and improved the team over the last month without rocking the boat.
Whatever prospect watchers thought of McKenzie Mills are in awe with the play of Howie Kendrick. Blake Treinen’s defenders watch Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson and breathe easier. The Nats are a better team now than they were three weeks ago. Losing players such as Mills and Sheldon Neuse sting, but their cost plugged weaknesses easily exploited in October.
The conventional wisdom starting 2017 was the Nats overspent for Adam Eaton and had little to show for it. Yes, the cost for him was high. It drained Washington starting pitching depth it needed this year. But, Eaton’s presence in the lineup and clubhouse were an immediate bonus. That deal was for the future.
Mixed with the inability to land a top-flight closer and the relationship between the fans and team strained. No one liked how 2016 ended and some thought the lesson was missed.
Over the course of the season, the Lerner family decided to go higher in payroll. Because average annual value is the figures used, not actual payroll, they allowed the Nats to exceed the competitive balance tax. Washington scored four solid players and have three every day players due back soon into the lineup.
It is hard to pull off a rebuild when you are in first place, but that is what happened. Despite numerous injuries and a bullpen wobbling around like a six-year-old on a sugar bender, the Nats secured themselves as an October power this year and NL East favorite next.
Not bad, right?