Nationals Baseball: The Nats awkward situation

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Nats awkward situation

Great little piece by Nats Triple Play about the issues with the popular belief that if you aren't contending you should be rebuilding. Go read it!

Ok you back? Rebuilding is often taken to be a far surer thing in theory than it is in practice. You hear all the time : "We're not going to compete right now so let's trade all our good older players and we'll be good in 4 years or so" Except no team can promise they'll be good in 4 years. They can't even say it's a 50/50 wager. If you make the right deals, and draft the right guys, and sign the right international players, and enough of them develop into high level talent, and the guys you already have that you are counting on develop too, and you have some injury luck and you sign the right free agents to supplement the team, if you do all that, all while 31 other teams are trying to do the same thing with the same talent pool, then sure, they'll be good. Any misstep however and things could fall short. Maybe a few games short maybe 20 games short.

If I make rebuilding sound like a bad strategy, I don't mean to. Sometimes, a lot of times, a team is better off doing it than not. And even though it is a hard business the difference between good and bad in baseball is slim enough that you should end up with a decent team every decade or so unless you are Pirates cheap or Royals stupid.

But "a lot of times" is not "always" and the Nationals find themselves in a gray area right now. Ideally a "rebuilding" team will have some young guys a couple years from making an impact mixed with players that obviously should be dealt: old players or players that will be expensive next year. But the Nats' young guys don't need a couple years. Zimmerman and Strasburg are stars right now and in positions (3rd base and #1 starter) hard to fill in other ways. The Nats' slugger to unload isn't old. Adam Dunn is 30 yrs old and has likely at least 2 good years left, possibly a bunch more. The Nats' key cheap pieces aren't about to get expensive. Both Willingham and Capps are still going to be cheap next season. It's not the best situation, no, but how long before the Nats find themselves in a better one?

It's a tough call and one that can go either way. As I've said before - I think it hinges on what Dunn can bring back. If he brings in a real prospect, one a year or two from impact, then maybe it's worth it to scrap this team because you could be looking at building with 3-4 star young guys just a couple years down the road. If it's nothing that seems sure, then maybe it's best to stick with what you got, rather than relying on Strasburg and Zimmerman and nothing else to carry a team through 2013.


Hoo said...

Trading Dunn and W'ham is a tough call. A good trade could significantly raise the ceiling of the Nats future. But I think there's a higher likelihood of the Zimmerman era ending in 3 years with no playoff appearances and leaving behind a decent but not very good team if Dunn/W'ham are traded. Maybe the Nats are the modern Cubs where they're not horrible but not really a contender either. And of course minus the fan support.

The scenario where you trade Dunn/Wham and make the playoffs by 2013 means that a) You spend a ton and get very good free agents and b) Some prospects/players really make the leap quickly. Some combo of Burgess, Demsond, Bernadina, Harper, Flores + new prospects become above average players. More has to go right than if you keep Dunn/W'Ham.

BTW,the Milledge/Morgan trade was the anti-trade of what the Nats should have done. I can't understand why the Nats gave away Milledge for an older player with limited future. I understand giving Joel Hanrahan a fresh start but trading a 24 yo b/c he has a bad attitude? If Milledge keeps progressing, that trade will go from praised to panned in about 24 months. Unless Morgan turns the rest of the season to June 2009.

DezoPenguin said...

Another point about "contending" vs. "rebuilding" is that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with building the franchise up incrementally. Money--and the need to spend more of it--is one of the Nats' big problems, but then again, it would be nice to have fans to provide revenue to give them that money to spend. It would be nice to be the Rays or the Red Sox or the Cardinals, with the ability to contend every year, but honestly, I'd love it if the franchise were to develop into something like the Minnesota Twins, where they may not be a World Series contender, but they're guaranteed to contend for the division title on a year-by-year basis and often succeed in getting to the playoffs (where anything can happen). To my mind, that's a successful franchise. One of the major reasons, I believe, that the Nationals don't have a lot of fans is the fact that for the last five years, the season has been over by the end of May. And when your franchise has something to offer more than gut-wrenching failure, then it becomes easier to be a serious player in signing free agents and draft choices alike.

Anonymous said...

I would think that after five years the Nats would do everything in their power to, at the very least, appear that they are committed to putting a contending team on the field NOW. I think trading Dunn or Hammer would send the message that we have to wait even longer than we already have to field a winner. I agree that the ability of the team to spend the money to field a winner hinges on the fans support. Look no further than the Capitals to see that "if you win, they will come" in this town. The hardcore fans can't support the team alone. We need the bandwagoners to jump on board. Which will only happen as the wins pile up.

That said, call me delusional, but I believe that we are an all-star caliber 2nd baseman and another front line starter(along with the return of the injured pitchers) away from being able to win consistently. Easier said than done but I really think management should do whatever takes to put a winner on the field now to build the fan support. The 13k or so hardcore fans that show up every non-Strasburg night will continue to do so. But the casual fans won't fill the rest of the seats, buy the caps, t-shirt, and jerseys until the team wins.

Harper said...

Hoo - I like your assessment of the "trade" Nats. I too see 67 - 71 - 75 then Zimmerman gone as a likely scenario. Making the playoffs (or even mid 80s in wins) just seems impossible with the Nats FA tendencies and the prospects on hand now.

As for Milledge, it was as much a giving up on Lastings as a defense thing. The Nats could finally, presumably get back a CF they could set and forget for a couple years, who also might hit. It didn't work out that way but that was the reasoning. Remember - it's not "Is Lastings better than Morgan" it's "Is Lastings better than Willingham and Bernadina" because if they didn't get Morgan I could see them bringing in another CF before the season.

Dezo - and I don't see trading or not trading really changing the incremental build they have going on. It'll speed it up or slow it down (is it possible to improve any slower?) but it's still moving foward. You're right though that there is an time coming in that plan where $ has to start being spent and while they've certainly warmed up to spending there si still a feeling around this team that it's trying to be fiscally prudent a bit too often.

Harper said...

Anon - I wouldn't say that's delusional but I would say that's the minimum necessary. There are too many question marks to expect to win with less added than that.

Kenny B. said...

I'm with anon. We need to do what it takes to get a good team on the field now, and I think better starters and a better second baseman are the keys. The city has suffered through some awful baseball, football, and basketball teams lately, and I think people really want to like the Nats. Their record, however, makes it hard to keep fans' interest.

Early in the season, there was a lot of buzz around here from would be fans, and the excitement was genuine. These days they are more interested in discussing Haynesworth and McNabb.