WASHINGTON (AP) — General manager Mike Rizzo knew this was going to be a tough season for the Washington Nationals. So did manager Dave Martinez. The players, too. And it was — to the tune of a majors-worst and Nationals-record 107 losses.
Compound that with the departure of star slugger Juan Soto via trade (which followed the previous exits of the likes of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper), the “mystery” of Stephen Strasburg’s future (to use Rizzo’s word), the still-developing youngsters on the roster and the pending sale of the club: There is quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding a franchise that won the World Series in 2019.
“It was a long year for us,” pitcher Erick Fedde said. “I don’t think we rank highly in much or even in any category. That’s unfortunate. But we have a lot of young guys who grew a lot this year and that was, in a big picture sense, a very large part of this season and hopefully that leads to success.”
Only two major league teams hit fewer homers than Washington. Only three struck out less often. No club's pitchers allowed more homers. Only one team had a higher ERA. And so on.
Rizzo called the season “a disappointment” — what else could he say? — and promised “an autopsy of the organization” this offseason.
“When things are at their worst,” the GM said, “I’ve got to be at my best.”
Neither Rizzo nor Martinez is willing to offer any sort of estimate of how long it will take to get the franchise back to the level it was at from 2012-19, when Washington finished first or second in the NL East each year and made five postseason appearances.
Since then? There have been three consecutive last-place finishes, with a winning percentage under .450 each time, including the .340 of 2022, 46 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.
So it seems clear there is quite a hill to climb, even if Martinez insists: “I can say it’s not going to take long. I mean, we’ll compete relatively soon.”
GM AND SKIPPER
Rizzo and Martinez are signed only through next season after their contract options were exercised in July. Rizzo has been in charge for 14 years, Martinez for five.
The Lerner family, which purchased the Nationals from Major League Baseball for $450 million in 2006, has been exploring the possibility of selling. The team is expected to be worth at least $2 billion now. “Only time will tell how that’s going to all work itself out,” Martinez said.
Rizzo called 2019 World Series MVP Strasburg's 2023 “still a little bit of a mystery” after the 34-year-old right-hander made just one appearance this year — and only eight over the past three years combined. Strasburg had carpal tunnel surgery in 2020, an operation to correct thoracic outlet syndrome in 2021, and a stress reaction of the ribs in 2022. If healthy, available and effective, he could be Washington's best player (either way, he will be its highest-paid under a $245 million deal that runs through 2026).
The past two trade deadlines yielded what the Nationals hope are cornerstones such as Josiah Gray, 24, and MacKenzie Gore, 23, catcher Keibert Ruiz, 24, and shortstop CJ Abrams, 22. Other potential key pieces are second baseman Luis García, 22, and pitcher Cade Cavalli, 24. “There’s going to be ups. There’s going to be downs. The team knows that. We know that, as players, because that’s just the way the game is,” Gray said. “But there are a lot of good pieces."
OTHER KEY NAMES IN 2023
Patrick Corbin, such a key part of the championship, was 6-19 with a 6.31 ERA, yet Rizzo said: “I see him as a starter for us next year.” Carter Kieboom, once seen as the third baseman of the future, missed all of 2022 after reconstructive elbow surgery; Rizzo said he’ll compete for a job in spring training. Joey Meneses was a revelation as a 30-year-old rookie, hitting .324 with 13 homers in 56 games, and Martinez's assessment was: “I didn't think the way he hit was a fluke.”
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