The Nats lost out on Greg Holland. My first feeling, which denies certain realities in favor of my own desires, says the Nats should just spend whatever. Payroll is whatever. Rich man's toy. etc etc. My second feeling, more steeped in understanding, says is that's a fair amount of money (assumed - club nor Holland hasn't officially stated deal) and if that would mean the end of the Nats FA signings well then I'm fine losing out. The Nats need an arm and a bench player. I'd rather get two B- level of these then one huge question mark with A potential.
There are a lot of decent FAs still left out there. Maybe they'll be available cheap. Maybe that doesn't even matter. We'll see.
What I wanted to really talk about though was the fact we are now completely removed from the "first window" of Nats success. You could argue that it ended after 2015 if you like, when ZNN and Desmond walked away and Storen was dealt. But there's no argument that at this moment, with Ramos out, Espy traded, and Strasburg here on a new deal, that we're in a different era. No longer are the Nats living off the unique set of circumstances that had them looking up after 2012 and seeing themselves as potentially division favorites for 4 more years. That was due to a combination of things in place before Rizzo, things Rizzo set up through the draft, things Rizzo and the Lerners finished out with deals, and a division that parted like the Red Sea. Everything in place now was set in motion by Rizzo alone. There is nothing here that he serendipitously found himself with. There are no #1 generational draft picks to help things along. This is all him.
Why I focus on this is because the Nats have a very specific plan in mind. Be good enough to get into the playoffs more often than not. As we talked about, this is a sensible goal because more playoffs appearances are the biggest factor in increasing your chances of winning it all. Improving the team beyond "playoffs" is a marginal concern when it comes to championships. And this plan has worked for the most part over the past 5 seasons. However the Nats also seem to have a very specific idea of what their budget should be to accomplish this. It is not a cheap budget, but does not extend to the highest in the league. Instead they feel secure settling on a competitive level around 10th in the league. Rizzo has been able to meet these two concurrent goals up to this point, which makes it seems reasonable. However, the next 4-5 years will tell us if that is really sustainable or just a function of those unique set of circumstances.
Can the Nats compete like this if more than one team in the NL East mounts a serious challenge through high payrolls or a timed explosion of young talent? With just "one at a time" the Nats planned seemed to acheive acceptable but just acceptable on again, off again, success. Can the Nats keep up a playoff level team without expanding payroll? This is where Eaton's bargain deal really matters. But even with that deal they'll have far more committed in 2018-2019 before looking at FAs then they ever did in the first window era. Does the age of the team work against it? After 2012 the team was full of players entering their primes. Now the team isn't old but no longer is almost everyone important 27, 26 or younger. Now multiple key players Strasburg (28), Roark (30), Gio (31), Murphy (32), Scherzer (32) are exiting prime years.
I don't want to suggest that doom and gloom is coming. I have no idea if it is and I'll tell you right now it's not coming next year barring something crazy happening. At worst they miss the playoffs with a high 80 win team. That's not doom nor gloom to me. What I do want to suggest though is that the Nationals haven't proven that they can really manage long-term, decade long type success with a payroll around 10ish in the league. Not yet. There are too many things that went into that first window to believe in that plan with certainty. If they do it over the next five years though. That changes things. Then it shows me it can be done, at least by these people, in this era.
Here's where I leave you - from 2017-2021, in those 5 years let's guess how the Nats will do. How many playoff appearances, how many division titles. (no playoff result guesses necessary). Do they maintain a team that's say... 85 wins or better in 4 of these 5 years?
I'll say 2 - 1 division title and no.