As the first month of the baseball season leaves port, there’s plenty to talk about with respect to the Washington Nationals. But the biggest news with the Nats is actually off the field. That is, now their two best players are out for an extended period of time with Stephen Strasburg still recovery from Tommy John surgery and Ryan Zimmerman going under the knife for a sports hernia. Even without their star pitcher and star position player, the Nats have held their own, going 13-14. That’s right about the pace many people expected the Nationals to play at even with Zimmerman in the lineup. If the Nationals crash and burn while Zimmerman is out, I think there’s still a silver lining. I’ll actually call it the “silver Spurs lining.”
If you remember, the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs of the NBA lost their star player David Robinson to injury for the year and played so terribly that with a little bit of luck in the draft lottery, they got a chance to draft Tim Duncan. The Spurs went on to win two championships with both Duncan and Robinson in the front court and then two more after Robinson retired. I’m pretty sure anyone would take one lost season for four championships in the next decade.
The Nationals didn’t expect to compete for a championship this year anyway, so what’s another 100-loss season for one of the top picks in the 2012 draft? Now, I know basketball and baseball are very different sports when it comes to the draft and “can’t miss” prospects. One player doesn’t make the difference in baseball the way it does in basketball. It can’t be ignored, however, that most of the otherworldly talent in the Nationals organization isn’t taking the field in Washington right now. It can only help the Nationals’ chances for the next decade to stockpile as much top-flight talent as they can.
That being said, I don’t advocate that the Nationals throwing the rest of their injury-plagued season. I think more good can come from the season if they exceed expectations this year and play .500 ball even without their top stars. It will continue to help change the perception of the team as a perennial loser. As I alluded to before, the nature of the baseball draft also doesn’t guarantee that the top player in any one draft is also the first guy drafted. So, your team does itself less good by throwing a season for the top pick than it would in other sports. Although some would argue the Nats have had some luck with this with Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Some skepticism has to be applied even to those two players as both were considered by some “the best prospect ever.” That guy can’t exist year after year.
So, let’s hope the Nats continue to trend towards .500 baseball while Strasburg and now Zimmerman are out, and let’s see what they can really do when those two get back.