The Nationals continue to make significant changes to their Front Office and Player Development staff as it is now confirmed that they will not be bringing back their Director of Player Development De Jon Watson, as reported by Andrew Golden of the Washington Post.
My initial reaction was positive, as the Nationals' farm system, while better than it was, has significantly benefitted from the Juan Soto trade and selecting higher in the draft. That makes it more difficult to truly evaluate the player development compared to recent years, but it is not outrageous to believe the Nationals just decided the performance did not warrant a contract extension.
The kicker here is within Golden's article, in which he says the Watson move was more of a cost cutting measure and that there are more moves to follow. This is already following the flurry of firings last month where the Nationals let go of more than a dozen international scouts. It also followed the surprising resignation of Johnny DiPuglia, who was the Nationals' longtime Director of International Scouting.
So where are we at now?
After sitting with it and looking at the big picture, this all feels like a cost cutting measure by the Lerners. Could they take that money and reinvest elsewhere? Sure. Will they? It does not feel like it in the slightest, especially after the penny pinching offseasons the Nationals have had recently. Which was apparently Mike Rizzo's fault, according to Mark Lerner.
Rizzo, who has a long history of spending in Free Agency including arguably the greatest Free Agent signing in MLB History with Max Scherzer, just upped and suddenly stopped spending? Seems legit. Surely the lack of spending coupled with the announcement of the team being up for sale was pure coincidence, and the Front Office shuffling and firings is just another coincidence.
Instead of re-investing, they are seemingly going bare bones with the front office and, as of now, putting much more back on Mike Rizzo's shoulders. Rizzo is good what he is good at, like working the trade market, but he is not good at what he is not good at, mainly drafting and player development. Once again, it seems ownership has put Mike Rizzo in an unenviable situation.
But here we are, and I cannot help but be concerned about the future of the Nationals' player development. You hope that players like James Wood and Dylan Crews are just talented enough to make it to the Majors soon and learn as they go without much help from the Player Development staff, but prospects are far from a sure thing. And where the Nationals have really struggled is the depth in the Minor League system, which will take the biggest hit from the lack of resources and personnel in the Player Development department.
They drafted a toolsy player like Elijah Green who was raw but had extremely high upside and counted on their staff to build up his floor and help him reach his ceiling. Now, they are actively making it harder to make that happen and putting another first round pick in jeopardy of not making it to the Major Leagues.
In a vacuum, moving on from De Jon Watson is not a bad thing, but it is when you combine this move with all of the rest that red flags start popping up everywhere and alarm bells start ringing. If you are a Lerner defender, I sincerely hope you are right and this is all just temporary and it is in fact just a reinvestment in Player Development. But to me, this feels like an upcoming miserable stretch regarding the Front Office that will really only be resolved by selling the team and getting ownership in here that cares to invest in the team.