Nationals Baseball: Expectations

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


For a couple years now, we've all assumed that the Nats have been building toward 2013.  Why 2013?  Well for one, it gave them a fair amount of time to internally develop some high quality young players.  The other, bigger reason though, was that Zimmerman is due to be a free agent after the 2013 season.  You have to figure if  the franchise can't come up with a legit playoff team in 9 years, that he'd be ready to walk for greener pastures, despite all the "promise" the Nats can lay at his feet. Lose Zimmerman and you've made competing that much tougher.

But after last year's rise toward .500 and the introduction of the 2nd Wild Card, things have been different.  It now looks like the Nats, with some luck and a couple of key moves, could compete in 2012.  The fanbase sees this, is ready to go after 7 years of terrible baseball, and has to be managed delicately so as not to create outsized expectations.


It's not so much that the Nats tried to get a starter and a centerfielder and failed (so far). It's that they let everyone know they wanted to get a starter and centerfielder, then went out and failed.  Expectations were set and quickly not met.

The Nats could use a starter because here are the number of major league innings pitched by the Nats early rotation not named John Lannan : 192.1, 97, 92, and 62.  Oh, did I mention that this was for 2011 AND 2010 combined?  And that every single one of these guys has had a major injury in the past 2+ years?  So they need that extra Livan-like arm, but it doesn't have to be a Buehrle.  A 1-yr deal for any decent arm would give the Nats security that they won't have to burn through the bullpen and a chance to go through a bunch of their young arms to see who can survive, and maybe thrive, in the majors.

The Nats could use a centerfielder because they don't have one.  But maybe with one more year of Roger Bernadina stop gap, Bryce Harper proves competent enough to man that position while he's in his youth.  Then instead of a CF the Nats could focus on getting a much easier to find corner outfielder or first baseman for their 2013 push.

Don't get me wrong, it doesn't put the Nats in the best shape to do nothing this year.  It's hard to do everything you want in a single off-season and rather than see problems get solved with time, it's more likely that new problems will open up (say Desmond fails again and the Nats bullpen implodes).  They really should do something but they don't have to do something. If the goal is "Playoffs in 2013" then the expectations should remain there. Let Rizzo have the rope to hang himself or swing across the bow of the ship like a swashbuckling hero.


blovy8 said...

The trouble is Rizzo sets out his goals in the offseason in such a way as to build expectations. I find it hard to believe that there's only ONE pitcher they were willing to sign if they considered that a priority. Yet the idea of a one-year deal for Oswalt, Kuroda, or whoever is not on the radar despite how openly we heard about Buehrle. Don't get me wrong, if they do nothing, that's fine with me, because I think Peacock and Milone deserve a shot when/if Detwiler struggles, or the other four starters need to miss a turn. But that is not what we've been sold. That, and the idea of getting a solid center fielder through any means has been reduced to Cameron and Bernadina. It would be a real leap of faith to believe the Nats will cough up for Cespedes.

The expectations that Werth will be better, Zimmerman will play more, and LaRoche will return to his average ways again after his injury, and that the rest of won't surprise in the wrong way are just as depressing a notion to have to rely upon for any hope of a better record in a division where one of the teams below us got significantly better. This is postponing a lot of decisions until 2013, and what's the point of that when it only takes a little money to improve your chances this year without blocking anyone useful or disrupting long-term planning?

Todd Boss said...

Who's "expectations" for this team are being criticized here? The fans? The sportswriters? The 20-or-so guys who write blogs?

Have we ever heard any statement of deviation from the original "plan" laid out by Rizzo upon his hiring?

Harper said...

blovy8 - and that's just it. The fans were sold the idea of more changes, so even if they weren't necessary to begin with, it's almost as if they have become so, not for the team but for the collective fan psyche.

I think the postponing is because the answers they want aren't available, but if they aren't available before 2013 then what? More stalling? At some point you have to use Plan B and C, because it's better than nothing.

Todd Boss - Yes, maybe, yes.

If we want to be that serious, I doubt Rizzo ever said 2013 either.

In fact in 2009 he said wanted to (1) get an anchor to the pitching staff, (2) build a speed and defense team, especially up the middle and (3) stabilize the pen to compete in the "very very" near future. Talk about not deviating from the plan. I guess that not being able to solve the issues is one way to keep the plan stable.

but in all seriousness, when the fans see a team at around .500 and a management vocally saying they'll fix the main issues with the team currently, I can't blame them for reading that as - we are maybe going to compete this year.

Harper said...

I also think that maybe Rizzo is adjusting his own expectations - at least that's what I'm reading from "get a rotation anchor" to "fine with what we got", from "exploring options on CF" to "maybe Werth can play there". There was either failure to properly read the markets or failure to execute in plans, but there was some failure somewhere. It doesn't derail the ultimate plan, but it can't be dismissed off-hand.

Donald said...

I'm not sure I'm following the criticism of Rizzo here. Is the issue with what he's said (about wanting another P and a CF)? Or is the issue with what he's done (not land one of the above yet)? If the gripe is that he shouldn't have said what he thought we needed, I think everyone already kinda knew what we needed anyway. If he went into the off season saying he thought we were fine at CF between Bernadina and Ankiel, he'd have taken heat for that. Or if he had said we didn't think we could make the playoffs in 2012 so we're just going to see what our youngsters can do, the owners would have been pissed.

If the gripe is about what he's done, the only deal that he didn't make that he maybe should have would be to post for Aoki, but we don't know his scouting there. Are there other moves that you think he should have made that he's already missed out on?

Wally said...

If they wind up doing nothing this offseason, I think that they will rationalize it the way that you lay out. But I also think it will be a bs, because I think that they intended to do something, but either couldn't get it done, or something changed. Kind of like your post from a few back. Note: I am not actually offering an opinion on what they should have done, just saying that I think Rizzo intended to do something fairly big and didn't, so he'll rationalize it.

If what you are trying to do is essentially rate Rizzo's performance, it is pretty clear that he has done more good than bad (lucky or smart, I can't separate it so I give him credit for either). But whether he has/is doing enough to get them into the playoffs, that remains to be seen.

Harper said...

Donald - gah gah gah. I wrote this post specifically because I felt I might have been skewing too much against Rizzo and yet I find myself back here again. My problem is that he said it AND that he hasn't landed one. The combination of the two. It denotes some error either in understanding of the situation on hand (the market would not be "fair") or in execution. But these are minor complaints. He still has the entire off-season to do something AND really he has all of next year because 2013 is really the drop dead year not 2012.

Wally - I think Nats fans should be very happy with the job Rizzo has done up to this point. Unfortunately it's a what have you done for me lately job and one off-year is about all you get (but he hasn't had that YET. Shaping up that way but not yet)

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of with Donald here...that the only move Rizzo can possible be critized for is the Aoki posting. It was criminally low and worth a shot. I honestly believe they thought it would be in the ten million range and didn't want to bid that...but had they won him. He is a lefthanded bat that at the very worst be better than mike cameron and our 4th OF. A good bit to spend on a 4th OF, but the upside is that you have a leadoff centerfielder. Worth it in my opinion.

The other moves I don't mind Rizzo passing on, the minor league, whatever.

To the post's point: Yes the needs are obvious. Rizzo could have simply said "we need a couple more pieces" instead of saying exactly what they were...but every decent blog would still know what they were.

I do have a couple of points and would love your/and other's opinions

1) Prince. I was against Prince from the beginning. I didn't see the need. We have two capable 1st basemen. Signing Prince, complete destroy's LaRoche's value. 8 million. however I'm sort of coming around to the thought that Prince may be a good addition at 7 years/. LaRoche's value be damned. Reason: We have window coming up in 2013-2016. Having Prince during that time would be huge. So what if his last two years are crap-we probabbly won't compete anyway..try to win in this window.

2)As much as I would like Cespedes. I don't think it will be a good fit. Mainly due to him being a righty and not a leadoff hitter. I would assume the plan is to trade LaRoche mid season to bring Harper up-and move Morse to 1st. We don't really lose a left handed bat because of Harper, but we do make the middle of our line up all righty-unless you move Harper to 5th. I think if you sign Cespedes-then you have to trade Desmond and get a lefthanded bat to play SS or 2nd. Lombo is a switch hitter-so maybe that works, but IMO he isn't ready.

3)I don't really want Gio. I think he is a great young talent-but for what Billy Beane will want I think he will be far to expensive.

4)I think the Nats need to address exactly what Rizzo has said. 1)centerfielder 2)SP..but I would add leadoff bat to the mix.

I know this was pretty rambling sort of post. I apologize.

Harper said...

Anon - On Aoki, I think so too. Unless they truly thought he was terrible, 3-4 million REFUNDABLE dollars to take a closer look at the guy is money worth putting out there.

You're right that "we need a couple more pieces" would have held no mystery to any Nats fan but subtle things like that matter when it comes to how a team comes across. The more specific you are the more you set up expectations. "Successful season" may mean the same as "Make the plaoyffs" for a team at the Nats level but say the latter and you'll be held to it far more than the former.

1) Prince - I'm not a big fan of Prince on the Nats, if only because I think the Nats need that Morse outlet if they want to move Bryce up this year. A 1st base signing would force a lot of shifting they probably aren't prepared for (but there are worse things that "where to I play all my wonderful bats?")

Really though I think he'll get 7+ years and Anything beyond 7 and that's just sooo much wasted money when they already will be wasting cash on Werth. While I'm all about "just spend more" there's a difference when you have 40-50 million useless dollars hanging out there.

2) I don't worry about fitting roles or getting a good lefty righty lineup. Just fill my lineup with good hitters. For Cespedes I worry more that he's all hype and that posting is going to be so huge that you almost can't do it.

3) I don't know about Gio. I don't love him but I'm also not in love with all the Nats prospects. If they'd do Norris and Detwiler I'd jump. Hell I'd probably toss in another like Cole or Solis. But the Nats are probably better served wrapping all these guys up in a deal for someone who's a knockout pitcher. Something like Purke, Norris, Detwiler, Perez for Price.

4) I say worry about the leadoff only if it makes sense. I've watched the Nats try to find a speedy, high average OF to bat leadoff for year now and that commitment to that idea has done nothing but hurt the team.