WASHINGTON — The Nationals may be unnecessarily limiting their window for success.
With a window, contingent upon Bryce Harper’s free agency in two years, already publicly perceived, there is a chance, if the Nats’ offseason spending trend holds, that make-believe window could become legitimized.
The Nats tend to spend in large doses and out of nowhere, as was the case with Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Jayson Werth.
What they don’t often do is spend in smaller chunks to shore up the club’s overall depth — as they did last offseason to overhaul the bullpen — which forces Mike Rizzo, General Manager and President of Baseball Operations, to get crafty around the trade deadline for a chance to compete in the postseason.
There’s nothing revelatory about this; just look at their prior offseason spending.
What is revealing, if true, is this report from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports about financial road blocks allegedly placed in front of Rizzo by the Lerner family. Rosenthal paints a picture of arbitrary spending sprees and otherwise resistance by ownership to spend money when Rizzo feels it’s necessary. Via Rosenthal:
Ownership, through a team spokesperson, declined a request for an interview. General manager Mike Rizzo declined comment. But those who work for Rizzo repeatedly have expressed frustration that the GM –- whose trading record is among the game’s best –- must fight ownership to get the players he wants.
“He has the hardest job in baseball,” one Nationals official says, “with what he has to go through to get things done.”
According to Rosenthal, the Nats remain in ongoing discussions with the White Sox about acquiring closer David Robertson, but are presented with an obstacle that rings familiar to the Jonathan Papelbon deal several years back.
Robertson is still owed $12 million in 2017 and $13 million the year after, the entirety of which Rosenthal says the Nats are reluctant to absorb. The alternative?
This could one day prove to be a crack in the organization’s foundation: By moving more prospects, they could theoretically get Robertson at a cheaper price (with Chicago eating salary). But the Nats don’t want to do that, either, Rosenthal says. Not after dealing Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning in the Adam Eaton trade.
Over the past year, the owners occasionally have loosened the reins. The deferrals in the Nationals’ free-agent offer to [Kenley] Jansen were relatively minimal, sources said, and the team boosted its payroll by nearly $3 million at the trading deadline to add Melancon. Ownership in previous seasons required Rizzo to make such deals cash-neutral, forcing the GM to give up better prospects.
This strategy, of dealing higher-level prospects to lessen the payroll of incoming players, isn’t sustainable, and over a long enough period will bankrupt the organization of future chances at success. Continue depleting the prospect pool to save money now and pretty soon there will be nothing left to deplete.
Worse, they could set themselves up for a Phillies-like implosion (2012) in which the organization, with no desirable prospects to deal, eventually hangs itself by the weight of its own massive contracts owed to aging veterans.
The solution appears to be somewhat paradoxical and yet, increasingly inescapable: The Nats need to spend more money, and soon.
(Read Rosenthal’s full report for more context.)