Yesterday provided a notable turning point for the Nationals, who’ve struggled to build momentum all season long. The organization shipped out a pair of big lefty bats — Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and Matt Adams to the Cardinals — though it decided to keep another in Bryce Harper. While it’s still not impossible to imagine a late-season run, the organization obviously decided it would no longer forego cost savings and prospects in order to maximize its chances.
Here are some notes on the disappointing ballclub:
- Principal owner Mark Lerner penned a letter to fans in which he characterized August 21st as the point at which the time came for the organization “to make decisions that will bolster our roster for next season and beyond.” With an eye to the future, he says, the Nats moved Murphy and Adams to achieve “roster flexibility” and audition younger players. Still, Lerner emphasized, “this is not a rebuilding effort.”
- It’s not surprising to hear that the D.C. organization intends to re-tool and make another run in 2019, of course. The roster is still loaded with high-end talent, with some promising players rising up through the system. But there are many needs to be accounted for in the coming winter, and Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post takes an early look. It’s not a short list, though the club will have plenty of payroll space to work with. As Svrluga notes, Nationals president of baseball ops Mike Rizzo emphasized that the club would reinvest the money it has saved through its dealing into baseball ops, saying: “The money that we are making from the cash considerations goes directly into procuring talent for us to compete in the future.”
- In his other comments yesterday, Rizzo struck a tone suggesting confidence in the future but disappointment in the present, as Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com reports. Unsurprisingly, that seems to be the prevailing sentiment around the organization. In terms of the nuts and bolts of the deals that were and weren’t made, Rizzo explained that the financial savings won’t necessarily allow the club to dip below the luxury-tax line. (Additional moves later this month could do so, perhaps, though there’s no clear indication as of yet whether any will occur.) Dealing Harper would have helped, to be sure, but Rizzo says “you have to get a deal that makes sense to trade one of the elite players in the game.” Evidently, that was not forthcoming. (Indeed, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register tweets, the Dodgers placed the claim to block other NL contenders from possibly working out a swap.)
- Most of the above discussion is forward-looking, but there’s certainly cause and opportunity to look back at what went wrong. Injuries were unquestionably a factor, as Lerner noted in his letter, but that hardly explains the disappointment in full. Notably, the Nats have drastically underperformed their expected outcomes by measure of Pythagorean W/L and BaseRuns. Failing to capture wins is a complicated area to address, but the Nationals’ bullpen woes surely are a prime factor. Before yesterday’s roster reckoning, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post documented the collapse of that unit over the course of the season. It’s a fascinating read that includes a detailed explication of the team’s decisionmaking and colorful accounts of the recent departures of Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley. The piece is highly recommended, particularly for Nats fans.