There hasn’t been a back to back World Series champion since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000. While it is nice to relish in the past and appreciate all that was accomplished by the 2019 Washington Nationals baseball’s hot stove season has always been about embracing the future and the potential of the possibilities. The off-season is a time for speculation. Speculating how an injured player will rebound, how a prospect will develop, which free agent signings will boom, which will bust, and what trades the home town nine will make to improve their chances.
While it i nice to reflect on the run the 2019 Washington Nationals had there is work to be done. Winning the World Series doesn’t preclude the next season from having to be played or change the goal of that season. From 2012 to present day the goal of the Washington Nationals has been to win the World Series. The accomplishment of that goal now means that the new goal is to win more World Series.
This, is by no means, an easy task to accomplish. It will have been 20 years since the last back to back World Series winner by the time summer rolls around. That means Mike Rizzo and his staff have a busy and difficult off-season ahead of them. Made only more difficult by how the Washington Nationals won and just how many of the players that helped are now free agents.
Having a mass exodus to players to the free agent market isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Washington Nationals might have a need for a first baseman, a second baseman, a third baseman, catcher, two starting pitchers, four or five relief pitchers, and an entire bench but they have a significant amount of money in order to fill those needs.
The most obvious of questions is should the Nationals focus on bringing back the players that helped them win the 2019 World Series or move on with hopes that the next crop of players will be even better. The answers will vary player to players. Will third-baseman Anthony Rendon age gracefully like Adrian Beltre or will he see a sudden and sharp decline in play like his former teammate Ryan Zimmerman? And speaking of Zimmerman, is it worth bringing him back on a short term deal to platoon at first base or is it time to finally fill a position that has been a weakness for the past several seasons? Do the Nationals need to keep World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg or is his surgically repaired right elbow a ticking time bomb they’d rather go off on someone else’s mound? And what of the clubhouse chemistry gang? The play of the bench is fickle as the Nationals have learned the hard way (Chad Tacy), but Parra, Dozier, and Kendrick were part of the reason the 2019 Washington Nationals were such a blast to watch.
These are all difficult decisions that leave us with infinite possibilities. Perhaps the Nationals don’t resign Rendon but they bring back Strasburg and sign Gerrit Cole. Fill the rest of the team with the free agent bargains that are available in late February and ride starting pitching as far as it will take them. They could look at the bullpen and bring in Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Will Harris, and resign Daniel Hudson to turn their greatest weakness into their greatest strength. Or they build an offensive juggernaut by resigning Anthony Rendon, adding Yasmani Grendel, Jose Abreu, and trading for Mookie Betts. The Nationals do have $100 million to spend and remain under the luxury tax, and since they were under it in 2019 and reset the penalties they might even be willing to eclipse it and do all of the above.
The baseball off-season is the season of the possible. An infinite number of moves and transactions lay before us and we await our favorite teams and their rivals to start making moves and counter moves. We look forward to debating and discussing the impact that each and every move will have and then assigning off-season winners and losers. Grading the various teams off-seasons and using that to predict what will happen in the 2020 season.
There hasn’t been a back to back World Series champion since the year 2000, but then again there had never been a team that was 19-31 50 games into the season that defeated two 100 win teams and faced elimination five times, being behind in the eighth inning in three of them, to win the World Series. The Washington Nationals have already done what has never been done before. Doing what hasn’t been done in 20 years is easy next to that, but it all starts in the off-season and deciding how the 2020 Washington Nationals are going to look when they take the field on Opening Day and how different that will be from the 2019 Washington Nationals.