The Washington Nationals hope they can win now while building for tomorrow. A tough task, but possible from harsh lessons learned from the past.
The Washington Nationals are about to undergo their toughest high-wire act yet. Try to win a championship this year while keeping their aspirations open over the next several.
This is the golden age of Nats baseball. Four division crowns over the last seven seasons. The crap shoot that is playoff baseball did not make for happy October’s, but you cannot say Washington sat on their hands.
Which leads us to this year. No one is content about the playoff past. Franchise icon Bryce Harper hits free agency, maybe, the moment the 2018 season ends. There is a sense of public urgency that this is the last best chance at a World Series.
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Yes, the Nats are poised to make the playoffs again. Where Harper plays in 2019 is a mystery Scooby-Doo cannot answer yet. At some point, Washington will advance in the postseason, 2018 is as good as any year.
But, the window does not close if Harper leaves. It may not be wide open, but the talent on the field and in the minors is too great for that to happen. The Lerner family will continue to spend on players and the front office will evaluate as needed.
Both ownership and general manager Mike Rizzo have learned hard lessons. Throwing money at roster spots guarantees you nothing. Trading prospects sometimes will backfire. Complacency kills.
Although you the fan are ready to go all in, the Nats must plan for tomorrow while winning today. Free agents such as Jake Arrieta and needed players like J.T. Realmuto are likely not coming to wear Nats uniforms. Instead, Washington refuses to part with their best ready prospects while a new generation of pitchers prepares in the minors.
If there is one thing the Nats do well, it is being a conservative franchise. The moves they make are genuine surprises that show deliberate thinking and low risk. Yes, it is frustrating to the win now camp. Last year’s bullpen debacle, followed by Adam Eaton’s torn ACL showed an organization too slow to react.
This off-season offered a tremendous change mixed with stability. Recycling the entire coaching staff, save Bob Henley, was a bold move. In seven months, we will know how it worked. Yet, the lack of splashy deals outside hiring Dave Martinez tells us the Nats are content for the future.
There is a tricky balance Washington is trying to navigate. A championship would be sweet. But, putting the Nats in a position to win one two years from now is a priority. For any team, it is a true paradox with no easy answer.