The Washington Nationals are smack dab in the middle of their window. Their best players are 20 and 24, they have one of the best managers in the game and they built one of the best rotations in baseball. They won the National East handily in 2012 before falling, in tragilarious fashion, in the NLDS. This is the Nationals time to shine.
It is at this time that the Nats front office is able to take risks with an eye to winning the World Series. They can forsake a draft pick and commit $28 million to a reliever because they aren’t as worried about their final payroll numbers are they are focused on staging a parade through Washington D.C. in November.
It is easy to lose sight of this very significant detail. The Nationals suffered through endless losing seasons, drafting first overall in consecutive years, securing the aforementioned best players on the team. The rebuild is over. The build is over. There is only winning – as many games as they can muster.
The bean counter in us all might scoff at giving Adam LaRoche two years plus and Rafael Soriano two years plus while Jayson Werth earns an ungodly amount of money but here the Nats are – ready to defend their NL East crown with the best team in the division. When the deals with LaRoche and Soriano expire, Werth will be further along his decline phase while Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg begin earning much more significant paychecks. All water under the bridge if a World Series banner hangs over Nationals Park.
Free agent signings or trades can easily look like overpayments when viewed exclusively through the lens of “value.” It is unlikely Rafael Soriano, good as he is, will earn the contract Mike Rizzo just handed him. But Soriano represents something bigger to the Nats in this very specific situation – his marginal win value pushes their talent even higher and “veteran presence” — silly as it might seem to some of us — is something the Nats are willing to pay for. Their goal is more noble than simply fiscal responsibility.
A common phrase used to evaluate transactions goes to the tune of “will Player X be on the next great Y team?” For Rafael Soriano, that answer is a resounding yes. For James Shields and the Royals, it is at best a “maybe.” One needs to look no farther than the Boston Red Sox, a team that brought in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford for big dollars, two players who defintely figured to be on the next “great” Red Sox team.
It didn’t work out that way, of course. Now Crawford and Gonzalez expect to figure prominently as parts of the next great Dodgers team (effective immediately.) The Red Sox are currently installing short term fixes, signing players to modest terms for briefer periods. Will Shane Victorino be on the next great Red Sox team? Maybe not, but he helps make the current iteration of the Red Sox better. Meanwhile, the Red Sox system percolates with talent at all levels.
Will Xander Bogaerts be on the next great Red Sox team? The front office in Boston certainly thinks so. Like the Red Sox of their recent glory years and the Nationals right now, once that homegrown core graduates to the big leagues, it will be much easier to swallow overpayments in pursuit of a World Series title, rather than balanced books and a shot at winning more games than they lose.
Just like the Blue Jays decision to trade their two top prospects for R.A. Dickey demonstrates: teams don’t get many opportunities to win it all. There is always risk and gambling the future for a brighter present tends to look worse over time when the results don’t meet expectations.
Nobody wants to spend five years digging out from underneath ugly contracts – there are no shortcuts to contention. But things are not always as dire as they seem. If we asked “will Jayson Werth be on the next great Nats team” at the time of his signing, what would you have answered? It pays to have a plan, it seems.
And the rest
Speaking of the Nats, Bryce Harper himself was on Jimmy Kimmel last night. Jokes on jokes, bro!
Bruce Bochy thinks Buster Posey is “doing the right thing” by skipping the World Baseball Classic because Bruce Bochy hates America. [CSN Bay Area]
Giancarlo Stanton steels himself ahead of a tough year in Miami. He should probably get out of there and rejoin his teammates in Toronot, dontchathink? [USA Today]
Joe Posnanski’s BBWAA project on the Hall of Fame is pretty interesting. Note to prospect Hall of Famers: don’t play second base. Or third. [Joe Blog]
Terry Francona wrote a book. He wants it to sell a lot copies. [ProJo]
Who has all the saves? This infographic breaks it all down. [Baseball Analytics]
Vote for Timmy. [Pageview tournament]
The Baseball Hall’s other problem – its inability to recognize shifts in the game. [Some Huff Post guy]
What will become of Scott Rolen? He doesn’t know, the Dodgers might be an option? Tough decisions for the GBOAT [ Cincinnati Enquirer]