A Perceived Strength that Became a Weakness

 

This has been bench week here on Citizens of Natstown, and in thinking about
some of the issues as well as Mike Rizzo’s unwillingness to make moves with
regards to the bench there is an obvious answer. Corey Brown’s most comparable
projection is Roger Bernadina, and while Jeff Kobernus and Will Rhymes are
tearing up AAA neither has been or projects to be much more than what Steve
Lombardozzi has been. In other words Mike Rizzo choose to stick with his
struggling players rather than making a change to end up with one less player
in the system and the exact same production at the majors.   

That is one view of it, and it is a
logical one. The other is that since it can’t get much worse Corey Brown, Will
Rhymes, and Jeff Kobernus should have been given more of a shot, but with no
obvious upgrades Mike Rizzo chose to do nothing. The question now is how did
the Nationals get into this position? The answer is simple. They had the most
complete roster in baseball as soon as Rafael Soriano was signed. Think back to
Spring Training and how boring it was as the Nationals went through the motions
of Spring Training with the roster having been set in February. That is
important. It is in those early months of the season that MiLB free agents are
signed, and the Nationals were not able to sign many because in reality no one
wants to play in AAA. Instead of coming to the Nationals and risk sitting in
AAA all season while the Nationals performed as expected they signed with
lesser teams and a shot to play on a major league roster.  

As it turns out the Nationals could
have easily used someone like Marlon Byrd over Tyler Moore or Brian Bixler over
Steve Lombardozzi. The Nationals were perceived to have a set roster and
struggled to sign the exact type of minor league depth they ended up needing.
The type of minor league depth that could have saved the season, but those
types of players didn’t want to come to a team with such a set roster.  

It wasn’t just on the position player
side. Tons of starting pitching depth slipped through the Nationals fingers.
Scott Kazmir was a pitcher most felt could be useful, but he wanted his
comeback to have an earlier start date and signed with the Cleveland Indians
and has helped them to stay in contention for the 2013 season. Kazmir or
Roberto Hernandez were both pitchers who could have helped the Nationals as
they’ve dealt with injuries and the underperformance of Dan Haren, but both
wanted to go to teams with a more open roster, and both have helped teams to
contend. By having such a set roster the Nationals missed out on some of the
more interesting MiLB free agents that would have loved a chance to win, but
preferred a chance to play. 

In sports sometimes a strength can
become a weakness, and that is what has happened with the Nationals. Their
perceived roster depth led MiLB free agents to sign elsewhere while the
Nationals were left with what they had, and what they had ended up not being
good enough. The 2014 off-season will be different. Chad Tracy’s contract is
up, Roger Bernadina is owed at least $1.6 million and should be non-tendered,
it is hard to imagine Kurt Suzuki’s $8.5 million option being picked up, and
Hairston and Lombardozzi’s jobs aren’t exactly secure. The Nationals should
enter Spring Training with at least a couple open spots on the bench, and with
a strong core and a young exciting manager they will be a team that can offer a
chance to play and a chance to win. On the pitching side it will be much the
same. Taylor Jordan has shown promise and both AJ Cole and Robbie Ray will end
the season at AA, but with Detwiler’s injury history and the unknown nature of
pitching prospects the Nationals should have one or two open rotation spots in
Spring Training making it easier for them to appeal to MiLB free agents. What
the lesson of the 2013 season really should be is the perception of a deep MLB
roster isn’t as important as a deep stock of AAA players. 

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