Washington Nationals: Prudence key as season nears

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Catcher Willson Contreras
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Catcher Willson Contreras /

The Washington Nationals have tough decisions to make coming into 2018. Should they fix holes now or wait? Here is why they should wait.

With a month to go until pitchers and catchers report, the biggest challenge the Washington Nationals face is managing expectations.

Yes, this is their best chance to break through in October. As long as the hot stove season remains ice cold why not speculate on who else can jump on the team? But, every person added comes at an extra price.

As of Tuesday, the Nats estimated payroll is over $180 million this year. When you consider the dreaded competitive balance tax, the number jumps to $204 million. Yep, they are over the $197 million limit. Since Washington cleared it last year, they pay a 30 percent fee for every dollar they are over this year.

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Although the team can afford the luxury, there are limits to how much Washington can spend and be practical. This is a business and the owners may make a profit. There is no resolution yet between the Nats and Baltimore Orioles over how much money Washington should get from MASN.

Every team got a $50 million chunk from Major League Baseball selling their streaming company to Walt Disney/ESPN. There is extra money along with the okay from the Lerner family to stay over the tax.

Which leads to Mike Rizzo’s dilemma. The Nats have holes at catcher and fifth starter. With the National League East being easy, at least on paper, does Washington make moves now or wait until the trade deadline to see where things stand.

If the division looked tight, it is best to go into the season with as strong of a hand as Washington can. Alex Avila and another good starter are players worth checking out. If the payroll tops $195-200 million, then that is the price of doing business.

But, whatever money is spent now limits what they can come July. Regardless of personal wealth, no one must add $20 million now and that much again at the deadline.

In public, Rizzo thinks the flaws can be fixed in-house. Washington has four candidates for fifth starter and two auditioning for catcher. The Nats do not eat contracts. No one is taking Matt Wieters $10.5 million solely for the public good.

The conservative approach is the best option here. Let things play out this spring and see where things stand around the All-Star break. If money must go, then do it. They will know what holes remain.

However, you should expect another surprise move or two. Whether it is a few Spring Training invites or another small signing, Rizzo has the flexibility to move within reason.

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