Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- After seeing it play out year after year, we know what it's like to watch the Nationals navigate an offseason after falling short of their goals, either in the postseason or before the playoffs began. We know how they operate when they have an urgency to win a World Series with owner Ted Lerner getting up there in age and the threat of a championship window slamming shut.

Now, this winter, we will get to see the Nationals, their front office and their ownership group do something entirely new. How will they go about their business now that they have achieved their ultimate goal?

Really, it could be fascinating to watch. Keep in mind they are in the unique position where many of their most important players are now free agents. They could not have won the World Series without Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick and Daniel Hudson; and all of those guys are set to hit the open market.

Before, when the Nationals had yet to win a World Series, they were very aggressive in free agency. They signed Max Scherzer to a record contract and just last offseason inked Patrick Corbin, the top free-agent pitcher on the market. Now, they have to decide on retaining their own players as well as what they can do to improve.

Surely, they want to improve, right? Well, they don't necessarily have to. After carrying a top-10 payroll for years, they could choose to scale back the books. They could thank Rendon for his time in Washington and simply move on. Their top two prospects happen to be infielders.

 

The Nationals wouldn't be the first team to be satisfied with a title and then let some of their best players go. If the Cardinals let Albert Pujols leave the winter after winning the 2011 World Series, the Nats certainly could do the same with Rendon or Strasburg. 

If you're a Nationals fan, what you should hope for is that the Nats go all-in for a second title. That is, of course, very hard to do. The last team to repeat as champions was the 2000 New York Yankees. 

But some teams have tried very hard, including the Phillies who after winning the 2008 World Series with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, loaded up in a quest for a second ring. With Cole Hamels far and away their best starter at the time, they went out and got Cliff Lee and later Roy Halladay. 

Though they didn't get that second title, they got very close by making the World Series in 2009, the NLCS in 2010 and then to Game 5 of the NLDS in 2011 after they won 102 games in the regular season.

If it weren't for Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon's heroics in the 2009 World Series, the Phillies may have won a second championship. They are, in fact, the only team during the repeat drought since 2000 to win a World Series and then get back there the following year.

The blueprint to follow the route of the 2011 Cardinals, or say the 2003 Marlins who traded star first baseman Derrek Lee after winning, is pretty obvious. If the Nats want to scale things back, they can just let one or several of their top free agents go and not replace them.

But what would loading up and pushing the chips to the middle of the table look like? Well, for starters they would probably have to re-sign Strasburg at a minimum, unless they then signed Gerrit Cole instead. Starting pitching is their biggest strength, but things would change if they let Strasburg go and moved forward with Corbin and Scherzer, who now has a back injury and his age to keep in mind.

Ideally, if they want to repeat, they would also re-sign Rendon, of course. He is their most complete position player and the drop-off from him to Carter Kieboom or Luis Garcia would likely be felt.

So, they would have to at a base level keep their top players and then add from there. The most logical way to do that would be in their bullpen, which had the worst ERA in the National League this season. Maybe they re-sign Hudson and then go out and sign some combination of lefty Will Smith, the towering Chris Martin or even Will Harris, whom the Nats got to know well in the World Series.

Maybe they make a splash at first base and add a lefty bat by signing Mike Moustakas. He has averaged 34 homers with a .817 OPS the past three seasons but keeps settling for short-term deals.

 

The Nats could also do something with the backend of their rotation. They have four really good starters, but could get another arm for insurance behind Anibal Sanchez and ahead of Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth. Maybe they add someone on a one-year deal like Rich Hill or someone similar.

The Nationals could always use the same budget they have in recent years and let team president Mike Rizzo go to work with a familiar set of resources. Perhaps they find a middle ground by letting Rendon walk and signing Josh Donaldson to a shorter-term contract to replace him while betting on their prospects to be the next talent wave.

No matter what the Nationals choose to do this winter, their 2019 World Series title will go down in history and be remembered forever. But winning two would also be fun, wouldn't it?

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