Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo should get more credit for getting most of “the big things” right this past off-season. “The little things” are a different story.
It’s almost impossible to watch or listen to a Washington Nationals game without hearing a player, coach or announcer talk about “the little things.”
In most cases, the phrase refers to the team’s fundamentals, which have been terrible since Davey Martinez took over as manager. The Nationals have lost countless games since the start of 2018 due to a consistent inability to make routine plays.
With Martinez on the hot seat mostly because of the “little things,” the same expression is rarely applied to Mike Rizzo. While the Nats general manager’s job shouldn’t be in jeopardy, that could change if Rizzo doesn’t quickly correct a collection of minor mistakes that have snowballed into a major crisis.
First, let’s glance at “the big things” Rizzo appears to have gotten right. Bryce Harper leaving for a division rival was painful, but as the strikeouts and boos mount in Philadelphia, not paying more than $300 million to keep the struggling superstar was probably a wise baseball decision.
Instead, the Nationals gave about half of Harper’s projected haul to Patrick Corbin, who has been every bit as good as advertised. For all of Washington’s problems, most teams can only dream of a 1-2-3 punch as powerful as the Nationals starting rotation.
For Rizzo, the “little things” are the biggest problem. Let’s start with Trevor Rosenthal, who is currently being paid $7 million to pitch at Double-A Harrisburg. Rosenthal was supposed to be the team’s primary setup man, yet can barely throw a strike.
Many, including yours truly, misjudged Rosenthal’s ability to effectively return from Tommy John surgery. Still, Rizzo undeniably took yet another huge risk with the bullpen, which has been the undoing of almost every Nationals team since the infamous 2012 NLDS Game 5 collapse.
Instead of gambling on Rosenthal, Rizzo should have signed future Hall of Famer Craig Kimbrel, who would have formed a fearsome relief tandem with Sean Doolittle. Kimbrel is still available, which makes this problem’s solution expensive, but easy.
Brian Dozier seemed like a prime bounce-back candidate, but has instead been one of the league’s most unproductive hitters. He cannot stay in the lineup, let alone the 25-man roster, much longer. Fortunately for Rizzo, the surprisingly stellar Howie Kendrick and the imminent return of Trea Turner makes the Dozier problem relatively simple to solve.
Michael A. Taylor has also been one of baseball’s worst hitters in 2019. Simply put, it’s time for the Nationals to sever ties with the outfielder after many past chances to prove himself. After smartly signing Gerardo Parra, Rizzo already has a backup outfielder for the rest of the season.
Anibal Sanchez was already having a disappointing year before leaving Thursday’s game with a hamstring injury. With Jeremy Hellickson also struggling, it’s safe to say Rizzo’s back of the rotation plan hasn’t panned out. Joe Ross and Erick Fedde will have to step up unless Rizzo pursues outside starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel, anyone?
Buried in fourth place, the Washington Nationals don’t have much time to save the 2019 season. With Martinez already in trouble, Rizzo’s future in D.C. may ultimately hinge on his ability to correct “the little things,” too.