Tonight Tanner Roark goes for the Nats and it reminds me that with all the talk of Matt Harvey and shutdowns the Nats are in the midst of their second shutdown. Joe Ross, who had been vital to keeping the Nats in contention while Strasburg battled injuries and Fister battled the harsh inevitabilities of age that will come for us all, was pulled from the rotation a couple weeks ago. It made some sense. The Nats had moved from long shot to miracle. No sense to burn out an arm on a quixotic dream.
And yet, Roark hasn't pitched all that well. The Nats lost both games he pitched and the latest one was definitely on him. If the Nats had won that game and currently sat 5.5 out...
It's easy to say that shutdowns are never the answer, but really shutdowns are almost always the answer for the player. The only reason we don't simply let it pass is SPORTS.
A player has trained all his life to do one thing. If he's lucky he can do it and get paid well to do it, for about a decade. Fifteen years if he's really lucky. If someone presents to him the scenario where being conservative could extend those years and increase those payments substantially, he'd be foolish not to strongly consider it, even with that scenario being backed up with little to no evidence. It would be different if the other side, being risky, had the support of the science, but it doesn't either. A player is taking a coin flip chance on his career when he is presented with this. All for a very slightly better chance, nothing close to a guarantee, of ending up a champion. The choice should be crystal clear.
This is normally where the story would end if it were any other business but since this is sports, there are wrinkles added. There is an ultimate goal that one team, and only one, will reach every year. Most players see this as a goal of theirs. What if shutting down conflicts with that goal? We've said for the player the choice is easy, but that's a vacuum scenario, where the player only effects himself. In reality a player is part of a team and his choices effect that team. If he chooses to shutdown he's not only slighty effecting his chances, he's slightly effecting the chances of other players who want to achieve the same goal, of people in management who have spent millions to achieve that goal, of fans who have also spent millions collectively in support of the team. What is a simple choice is now clouded. To make it Star Treky, do the wishes of many, outweigh the wishes of one?
This at least in part* why, in the end, some players do try to play through injury. Should Matt Harvey? That's up to him. What is his ultimate goal?
What made the Strasburg shutdown so curious is that the management, who should normally be against it**, was for it. We've talked about how that was a very special case. Strasburg being seen as a generational talent. The Nationals stocked with young good players in control for years and minimal holes to fill. Even with all that you could probably fall on either side of the fence on the decision.
Ross isn't the same as Strasburg. Ross is not generational. He's a good prospect who is projected to contribute probably closer to a 2-3 now, but still not special. The team is not stocked with good young players in control for years. They have a set of them, but they also have older players like Werth, Zimm, Scherzer and guys who will be gone soon like Strasburg and Storen. They aren't without holes. Relief remains a big issue. The rotation, infield and catcher will likely need an influx from FA in the next couple of years. But with Ross you effected a very small chance of winning the division, not an small chance at winning a pennant. The ultimate goal was so far off that this might be a reasonable move. But still I linger on the "might"
I'm not really saying anything here. Just ruminating. It's clear that if a player's goal is solely to make the most money / have the longest career, they might as well be conservative. That's Harvey's situation. I'm sure he wants to win, he just wants to be paid a lot of money to play baseball for as long as possible more. A conservative team is really no different. The goal is win consistently, with cheaper players, to maximize revenue and minimize costs. The goal is to make as much money as long as possible.
This isn't unique to the Nats but given the Nats haven't been bad since 2010 I think we might have forgotten about it, or assume that the Lerners will make sure years like that are the exception, not the norm. But I worry about that sometimes, with the Nats. What happens if Turner doesn't pan out? If Giolito hurts his arm again or Rendon goes down? What if the Nats find themselves in the next couple years at a point where they aren't a good bet to challenge for the playoffs? Does management strip it all down again? Being in contention means bigger crowds during the year, later in the year. It means more sales and more interest and more revenue. It means potential playoffs shares, and merchandise sales. That why you put money into a good team. It's a good investment. An 80 win team? That means none of that.
*Why "in part"? Well some who do this could have plenty of money and don't care about an extra 10 mill when they've made 120. Some might be fringe players who view playing through injury as a gamble to show that they are worth keeping. Etc. Etc. Very few things ever boil down to just one reason.
**Player health is so fungible, success is so fleeting, that valuing one player's health over any increase in odds of winning it all is questionable to say the least.