Amidst the Washington Nationals’ disappointing 2018 season, it was clear the team was lacking in leadership. They need some to step up next season.
While there were several different reasons the Washington Nationals disappointed in 2018, there was one that gradually became more clear as the year went along. They severely lacked any leadership from within the clubhouse.
When former Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker spoke with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, he thought the same.“They’re together, but they’re separate,” Baker said when asked what he thought was different between his seasons in D.C. and now.
“I see some guys trying to lead, but I don’t know if they lead in the right manner sometimes,” he elaborated. He’s not wrong, and right now, it still seems to be the case as we tick over into 2019.
It’s also probably no coincidence that 2018 was their first season with Jayson Werth on the team leaving a huge void in the clubhouse. Ever since the outfielder arrived from the Philadelphia Phillies, he was always seen as the leader and a big brother to everyone on the team.
“Jayson Werth. That’s who they miss,” Baker said when asked who he thought the leader was on the team. Now, the Nats either need someone to step up or bring in someone from outside the organization, just as they did with Werth in 2011.
Take the World Series winners as an example. They had several leaders ready to pick the rest of their team up during their sensational season. The ever-present Dustin Pedroia, despite his injury, JD Martinez and Chris Sale were there throughout the year to guide the team as leaders in the clubhouse with rookie manager Alex Cora.
Many will say that Max Scherzer is there to lead the Nats, which is true, but it takes more than just one player and more than a player who only plays once every five games at that. Aside from Scherzer, there really are no other players that could class as “leaders” on the team.
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Ryan Zimmerman has been with the franchise since it moved to the nation’s capital, but he’s never been considered as much of a team leader on the team. Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon are of a similar ilk as quiet leaders who go about their business and just perform to a high level rather than feel the need to act in a leadership role.
Now, it remains to be seen where that leadership among the players in the clubhouse but there are still ways they can emerge. For example, at times last season, we saw both Trea Turner and Adam Eaton appear to come out of the shadows and act as leaders, so perhaps they may take this one step further.
Turner was one of the main players involved and vocal in the players-only meeting before the huge comeback win over the Miami Marlins in early July. While that was quickly followed by the surfacing of old immature tweets, he was able to handle that ordeal correctly and as the team’s shortstop could be the next leader on the team.
We also saw Eaton speak up numerous times on the team’s need to perform, his only issue has been staying healthy and staying on the field. Hopefully, after he was able to play for most of the second half of the season, he can avoid the Disabled List and be a constant presence in the leadoff spot and be a spark plug on and off the field.
There’s also the possibility that a Werth-esque addition could be made this offseason to bring a fresh voice and leadership. Perhaps they’ve already helped address this after the trade for Yan Gomes earlier in the offseason and had been leading one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
After a particularly notable hustle play in 2016, Indians manager Terry Francona told Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com “Everybody notices it I’m sure. It makes it easier when you are talking to young players when one of your best players is playing the game like that.” It’s not just the vocal leadership, but being able to lead by example that matters.
This is another reason free agent like Brian Dozier has more appeal than just simply the stats on a box score. The second baseman was the main veteran presence on a Minnesota Twins team that made the AL wildcard game where he was dubbed the leader of the clubhouse. There has to be something extra added in the leadership category on the field, as that’s where the game is eventually played, which is where Dozier and Gomes have clearly thrived.
Ultimately, perhaps the person who needs to lead more is manager Dave Martinez. His first season as top dog was mired with inconsistencies, strange decisions and something of a lackadaisical attitude at times.
With a reputation as a player’s manager, he seemed to opt for pats on the back rather than stamping his authority on the team. Yes, most of the time a pat on the back and encouragement would be fine if that’s the style that he wants to manage with, plenty have had success doing so. However, he also needs to know when to take control and ditch the “Our boys played hard today” cliche and take action, even if it ends up largely being internal.
Martinez appears to be heading in a new direction this spring, hoping to change the attitude around the team compared to 2018 when it seemed too relaxed. We’ll have to see if he’s true to that, but if so, it could be a step in the right direction.
The Washington Nationals roster will once again be loaded with enough talent to potentially win the NL East in 2019. But unlike last year, they can’t just go into the season as a bunch of individuals, they need vital leadership if they are to have success and get over the hump.