Back in December, Nationals team president Mike Rizzo was asked on 106.7 The Fan about how aggressive he would be in trying to make upgrades to his roster this winter. He responded by saying “we’re a winning organization, we’ve got a bunch of winners over here, and our goal is to win again."
So far, that's exactly how they have operated. Now, why is that notable, you may ask. Well, consider some of the factors at play.
For one, this MLB offseason has been partly defined by most teams sitting patiently on the sidelines as a select group have made aggressive deals to improve. The coronavirus has hampered league finances and, though there is reason to believe teams still made money, some have acted like they don't have much of it to spend.
Secondly, the Nats entered this winter with a lot of needs and seemingly not a ton of resources in the way of payroll to spare or prospects to trade. And thirdly, the Nats won the World Series not that long ago, in 2019, and we are still feeling out how they operate in a post-World Series world. The urgency to finally win it all for the first time isn't there for ownership and the front office.
Those factors don't seem to have had much of an effect on how the Nats do business. They have rather assertively addressed their biggest needs while some of their competitors have stood pat. They traded for first baseman Josh Bell, signed outfielder Kyle Schwarber and just this week signed starting pitcher and three-time World Series champion Jon Lester.
None of those moves broke the bank, involved long-term commitments or required a bevy of top prospects to execute. But each of them in their own way signified the Nationals remain serious about winning and do not see this offseason as a transitional period where maybe they could rationalize taking a step back in hopes of taking a bigger step forward someday down the road.
While the short-term deals for Schwarber and Lester do give them some flexibility, you don't sign those guys unless you want to chase another ring. Now with Lester joining a rotation that already boasts Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, they have raised the ceiling with a clear goal of winning now.
That rotation has some questions, of course, Scherzer is now 36 and both he and Corbin saw their production drop in the truncated 2020 season that was. Strasburg has a nerve issue that may be the No. 1 concern hanging over this team going into 2021. And Lester, though only asked to be the team's fourth starter, hasn't had a good season since 2018.
They also have more needs to address like on their bench and in their bullpen. They have some uncertainty at third base, a very important position, both on offense and defense. At this point, they are still banking on some collection of their young guys - Victor Robles, Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, in particular - to find consistency at the plate.
But the approach itself by Rizzo and his front office, backed by ownership, is noteworthy. There aren't many teams that seem to be actively striving for a World Series championship, as if this was any other offseason. It's a group that includes teams like the Padres, the Yankees, the White Sox and the Nats.
With many of the top free agents still out there, like Trevor Bauer, George Springer and J.T. Realmuto, much could still change. But the Nats didn't wait around like many others have. They did exactly what Rizzo said they would.