The Nationals remain a team in transition and rebuilding

Last week Josiah Gray spoke the truth about the Washington Nationals and what’s next:

“Unfortunately, this game is not going to roll over and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to let the Nats win more games than they did last year,'” the 25-year-old pitcher said, referring to 2024 after the Nationals have a jump in 2023 made from 16 wins. “We have to be willing to work – and everyone will gradually get better.”

Yes, a 71-91 data set looks and performs much better than 55-107. But getting to 80 wins, then 90 — and then perhaps the 93 needed to make the playoffs as a wild-card team in 2019 — will likely be a much more difficult climb. The Nationals are currently at the end of another rebuilding season and are a club still in transition. They have improved, even though it could hardly have been worse. They showed their potential in August and then progressed into something much closer to them. They remain in the liminal space between tearing down and competing, between what they were two summers ago and what they hopefully will be two summers from now.

The result: genuine optimism balanced by a list of uncertainties. Isolated parts that could look like a whole if you just squint your eyes – and maybe tilt your head a little.

Svrluga: The core of the Nationals is developing. The next step: Find a star.

“I like where our young core players are at in the major leagues and I like the developmental year the minor leagues have had,” Mike Rizzo, the team’s general manager, said during the final series of the year. “So I think we’re on the right track to turn things around in the near future. We never set a timetable because development occurs at different times and on different development trajectories. But we are optimistic about where we are and where we are going.

“I think we’re on the right track with the combination of the depth we have in the minor leagues, the elite prospects we have in the minor leagues and the core group of young guys here.”

As always, the Nationals have two goals under the rebuilding umbrella: To compete for the postseason again, ideally by 2025. And to develop a farm system and processes – in scouting and coaching at all levels – that can help that goal And Help the organization achieve long-term success again.

With the latter, the Nationals completely overhauled their front office and replaced their top officials in amateur scouting, international scouting and player development. Johnny DiPuglia, its longtime director of international operations, resigned in early September. Kris Kline, their longtime director of amateur scouting, was assigned a special assistant role. And then on Monday, De Jon Watson, who has been their farm director for the past two years, was told he wouldn’t be back for a third.

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DiPuglia and Kline were assistant general managers (and two of Rizzo’s closest confidants in the sport). Watson became a central figure in the rebuilding effort, then lost his job in a reorganization that stemmed from the Lerner family’s desire to reduce the organization’s budget. There are further cuts to player development, a strange decision after the Lerners have invested heavily in technology and increasing staff in recent years. But the team remains for sale, which is another reason it continues to float in the ether.

“I think the future is very bright, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said in a recent interview with team media. (Lerner has not answered questions from reporters since confirming the family will explore a sale in April 2022). “I just think there will be really great changes in the next few years to take us to new levels. You also have to consider another thing: If you compare us to other organizations that have done this, we will probably achieve a complete turnaround faster than any team that has ever done this.

“Most of the teams are eight, nine, 10 years old and some of them haven’t even made it yet. We are only in the second full year of this development and we see a lot of promise. I firmly believe we will be back in the playoffs in the next two years.”

So there you have it. Everything is on the right track.

When asked about spending this winter, Lerner said Rizzo has the green light but could wait for another offseason to make a big splash (such as the signing of Jayson Werth, which signaled that the team was faced with a turning point in 2011). In terms of public relations, it was the perfect response, committing to victory while guarding against the actions that would back up the words. And that doesn’t mean that patience is the wrong approach here. It’s just difficult to predict the Nationals’ immediate direction, let alone who will be in charge and what their level of commitment will be.

In the meantime, Rizzo has key front office positions to fill — and at least one of them could be resolved internally. Fausto Severino, one of DiPuglia’s lieutenants, is expected to head the international scouting department, according to two people familiar with the situation.

A few weeks ago, Rizzo told reporters that he would consider internal and external candidates to replace DiPuglia and Kline. Severino has been with the Nationals since 2009, when he was hired as an administrator at their academy in the Dominican Republic. Most recently, he served as Director of Latin America Scouting at DiPuglia. Last season, the Nationals’ Dominica Summer League team finished 11-39 (last last) with a run differential of -140 (second-worst among all clubs, even those that split their talent between two DSL squads). .

But across the organization, individual results matter much more than wins and losses. That’s been true since the Nationals traded away Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and six other veterans at the 2021 deadline. It will be like this again in the spring. And with that in mind, there has been cause for excitement over the last six months.

Shortstop CJ Abrams took a step forward, finishing the game with 18 home runs and 47 stolen bases, 36 of which he collected after leading the way in early July. Gray was an All-Star, faded in the second half, but then found his groove again in his final three starts. Jake Irvin, 26, showed he can be a back-end starter. 28-year-old outfielder Lane Thomas has proven he can play for a competitive club. And there have been a number of positives in the minors, perhaps none more notable than Jacob Young, who was promoted from the top-ranked Wilmington Blue Rocks to the Nationals’ starting center in September.

MacKenzie Gore sees room for growth after a bubble-punctuated season

On the other hand, Washington must determine whether the less encouraging developments are due to coaching or deficiencies that will be difficult to correct no matter who tries. At the major league level, these included Keibert Ruiz’s poor performance behind the plate; Gray and MacKenzie Gore’s inconsistent fastball command; and the lack of power and pace of the offense. In the minors, these included high strikeout rates for top prospects James Wood and Robert Hassell III with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators; a setback year for outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa; and overall, there are too few offensive bright spots to be a fairly encouraging year for high-level pitching.

So here’s the age-old argument about whether scouting or development plays a bigger role in a player’s success or failure. The answer is never as simple as one or the other. The best formula is to commit resources to each area and be willing to learn and adapt. But analyzing each situation, good or bad, would help the Nationals make informed decisions regarding Dave Martinez’s personnel, their immediate acquisitions and their player development approach, which could determine the fate of their next core and what kind of trade opportunities They will have when it is now time.

Another year gone, another offseason ahead of us and the most important aspects of the rebuild have not changed.

“Coming here is one thing,” Rizzo said at the end of the season, referring to young players, although he could have been referring to his team. “And what we’re looking for is to stay here for a longer period of time and give ourselves longevity in this championship run.” The Nationals remain a team in transition and rebuilding

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