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Nats reaping bountiful harvest on the farm
Washington starting to see the fruits of its labor in the organization
And it wasn’t just the top-end executives. The team’s 2011 media guide listed 28 scouts — nearly triple what it had been before the Lerners stepped in.
In the wake of the accolades, Kline credited the development side; Harris pointed to the recent drafts rich in talent. They agreed on two things: They’ve been given the autonomy to do their jobs without interference and everyone speaks the same language when evaluating players.
“I think there are a lot of teams whose farm system is very separate from the scouting portion,” said Kline, who speaks regularly with Harris. “It’s like a marriage. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re so much closer now to having one mindset — and when you can do that, it’s almost impossible to fail.”
Attacking the draft
When Rizzo interviewed for the general manager’s job following Bowden’s resignation in 2009, he spent much of the session discussing a draft strategy. A new collective bargaining agreement was coming in 2012, and there would no doubt be changes to the structure. They had three drafts to use the old system to accelerate their progress.
“I never understood why more teams weren’t more aggressive,” Callis said of the previous draft setup. “It was a tremendous system that was easily exploitable if you were willing to pay for talent, and it just amazed me that more teams did not do that — especially if you’re a team trying to rebuild.”
Along with other aggressive clubs such as Pittsburgh, Boston and Kansas City, the Nationals did, especially from 2009 through ‘11 when they stole draft headlines and consistently paid over MLB’s recommended value for the draft slot — even for lower-round picks. They hit their crescendo last year.
“If Purke, Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer and Rendon were in the 2012 draft, based on what I’ve seen in the country so far, they’re all top-10 picks,” Kline said. “You have to overpay because of their value, but it was the last and final opportunity to do that.”
The penalties for teams spending in future drafts the way the Nationals have in recent years now are more severe. If Washington was to execute its 2011 draft under the new rules, it would lose two future first-round picks and be hit with a hefty tax.
Translating accolades into wins
The Nationals‘ goal from the start never was to have the best farm system and be content. The key is to translate that strength into wins and championships.
Tampa Bay, Boston and Texas have used strong systems to reach the playoffs in recent years. The Red Sox, like the Braves when they won 14 straight division titles from 1991 through 2005, have provided the blueprint on how to sustain major league success while maintaining strong minor league operations.
But many teams can’t get over that hump. That, most say, stems from ownership. When the time is right to begin integrating free agents and spending what it takes to keep the pipeline open, it requires commitment from those writing the checks. The Nationals‘ owners say they’re on board.
“Let’s put it this way, we’ve never been shy about the money we’ve spent on scouting, on player development, on draft choices and [free agency],” Lerner said. “I don’t think there’s a question people know we’ll spend the money — whatever it takes, within reason — to build it. But we’re businessmen, too. We’re going to be smart about it. We’re taking the advice of our GM, who we consider the best in baseball, and we’re going to try to do things the right way. I can’t explain it any better than that.”
In recent weeks, as spring training nears, fans have approached Lerner on the street to tell him how excited they are for the coming season. The accolade from Baseball America is just another cause for optimism.
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About the Author
Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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