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Nationals 2013: Waiting for ‘that nudge’: In Rizzo’s plan, talent runs deep at every position
The plans may be detailed and thought out, but they’re also flexible.
“I think they change most often because of the ability of younger players,” Rizzo said, pointing to a Nationals bench that holds Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, young players who could fill everyday roles on other teams. “That makes decisions for you.”
The Nationals also are strongly against acquiring rental players. Not strongly enough to say they’d “never” do it, but even last season, when the Nationals’ catching corps was riddled with injuries and Flores was falling out of favor, the team focused on Suzuki, for the player he was and the fact that his contract ran through the 2013 season.
By the same token, they’ve held firm on trying to avoid a logjam at positions with free agents when they feel they have others from their own system to capably fill that role, bucking a trend by many long-term contenders.
“When one man goes down, another man can fill in,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, using Moore as an example behind first baseman Adam LaRoche. “That’s just showing these guys are in the wings. When these one-year, two-year deals are terminated, then you’ve got a [guy on the cusp] who can fill in. He’s ready. He’s had success here.
“I’m not knocking a team like the Yankees, because obviously I have the utmost respect for them, but they’ve got these guys who are locked up for 10 years. They’ve had minor leaguers sitting in the wings for years ready to go, but they’re so log-jammed that these players end up just fizzling out. They never get their foot in the door, and then they go to another team and are competitors for them.”
There are different ways to build a team, and different ways to maintain it. In New York, where payroll was never an issue until recently, they’ve done it mostly by spending. A lot.
Still, the 2009 World Series winners got 25 percent of their American League Division Series roster from the draft. They built it through guys like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. They maintained it by doling out $100 million-plus contracts with regularity.
Across the country in Los Angeles, former Nationals president Stan Kasten is leading the Dodgers through a similar process. The difference, of course, is that the Dodgers are starting where the Nationals find themselves now. Given the benefit of enormous financial support, Los Angeles has filled out its major league team with large contracts and established players, while also focusing on building through the minor leagues.
“I have to admit, we are blessed with being in a situation where we can do both: we can do phase one, while still building for the long term,” Kasten told Grantland.com earlier this month at the Sloan Sports Conference. “Most teams aren’t that fortunate.”
Even with all the progress the Nationals have made in building their team, the man leading them on the field still sees weaknesses if they’re to be set for several years.
“I said it before I was managing, I thought the system was a couple years away, even though we had some really good drafts, from really having the insurance at all positions,” said manager Davey Johnson, pointing to areas where the team lacks depth, like starting pitching at the top level of the minors.
At one time that weakness was in the outfield. The trade for Denard Span, the emergence of Bryce Harper and the use of Moore, a first baseman, in the outfield alleviated that while allowing some of their top prospects, like Brian Goodwin and Destin Hood, to continue to develop.
“I think now we’re about maybe a half-year, year away from being a first-division organization through the whole system,” Johnson said.
The Nationals will have to spend more to keep the team they have now intact, even just through arbitration. And they have the flexibility financially to afford luxury items like Soriano, with that rising cost.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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