The Washington Nationals have had a rocky start to the 2019 season. General Manager Mike Rizzo deserves a fair share of the blame.
Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo deserves most of the blame for this disastrous start. Rizzo is generally a great talent evaluator and generally puts this team in position to win from the first day of the season.
Rizzo did not do that this season. Although he went out and signed Patrick Corbin to a 6-year $140 million contract, which has proven to be a wise investment thus far, he neglected to address multiple other areas.
On top of neglecting to address other areas, he spent recklessly on three particular players who cost him nearly $25 million. Trevor Rosenthal, Brian Dozier, and Anibal Sanchez have not lived up to expectations so far. In fact, in some cases, each of those three has cost the Nationals a win.
You can’t afford to spend $25 million on misses in an offseason and expect to win. The hope is that at least one, if not all three, turn it around this season. At the moment, that doesn’t look too promising.
The bullpen has been a dumpster fire since game one. This was an area of need that Nationals beat reporters and fans alike both knew existed. Bringing in Rosenthal for $6 million (plus incentives) and Kyle Barraclough is not enough.
The Nationals have invested just under $100 million in this year’s rotation alone. If you combine the entire bullpen’s salary this year, they are making under $20 million. Quite frankly, that doesn’t make any sense.
To continuously not invest in the bullpen is irresponsible. We thought that maybe Rizzo learned his lesson after 2017 when he had to unload Blake Treinen and now top prospect Jesus Luzardo along with Sheldon Neuse to acquire Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to solidify the bullpen.
In 2018, the Nationals entered the season with a veteran-laden relief corps which included Doolittle, Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley, among others. It was potentially the best bullpen that Rizzo had assembled since he came to Washington.
The problem was rookie manager Davey Martinez couldn’t handle the personalities and couldn’t handle the criticisms coming from the relievers complaining of warming up too often without entering the game. Rizzo then jettisoned Kintzler and Kelley because, for lack of a better explanation, they weren’t buying into Martinez.
So here we are in 2019, with a young bullpen full of average relievers, a guy coming off Tommy John Surgery who looks like Rick Ankiel on the mound and a dominant closer who was getting overworked three weeks into the season.
Rizzo tried to put band-aids on the problem by signing Dan Jennings and converting Joe Ross and Erick Fedde, his two best starting pitchers in the minors mind you, into relievers. Fedde has looked good so far, but as a whole, none of this has worked, and the Nationals still have a bullpen that ranks dead last in the Majors with an ERA of 6.20.
On top of the bullpen issues, the Nationals lack of depth was on display early this season. When Trea Turner went down, Wilmer Difo was thrust into the everyday shortstop role. That has been nothing short of a disaster.
Difo is batting .231/.301/.298 on the season, and his once solid glove work has been nonexistent. With Difo struggling, Rizzo called up top prospect Carter Kieboom. Kieboom went 5 for 39 with four walks and 16 strikeouts, played awful defense and was promptly sent back down to Fresno.
When Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Adams were both placed on the IL, Howie Kendrick became the everyday first baseman. The problem with that was Kendrick was unable to play every day as he continues to monitor his recovery from the torn Achilles he suffered last year. Now we have Gerardo Parra playing first base, even though Parra has played outfield for the majority of his career.
The point here is that the Nationals had nobody in the Minor Leagues ready to step up once injuries started to pile up, which they do every year with this team. The lack of depth and refusal to address the bullpen is solely on Rizzo and a primary reason why this team finds itself at 17-25 through 42 games.