At a restaurant on Saturday, someone asked, “So, how good are the Nationals?”
“They’re even-money to be in a World Series in the next five years,” I heard myself say. Was that the drink in my hand doing the talking?
“How did that happen?” my friend said, shaking his head.
Well, it hasn’t happened yet, nor has an actual winning season. And the state of Stephen Strasburg in those years will change the odds on optimism. But many things, none monumental, but all essential, have conspired to give the Nats a fascinating future. The most important factor has been the collision of good decisions with amazing good luck. To rise from the worst team in baseball to possible contender, you need it all.
In three years, the Nats have been stunned by the sudden resignations of their general manager, team president and manager. All three times, the Nats ended up stronger, but in ways that were totally unplanned and unexpected.
Who knew Mike Rizzo had a master plan for team-building, even though he’d never articulated it, never formulated it, until he had the job?
Who thought the Lerners would spend more after Stan Kasten quit as team president than they had in all the years he lobbied and cajoled for much higher payrolls?
What Kasten could seldom sell to Ted Lerner, Rizzo has charted, graphed, argued and sometimes (respectfully) ranted until he, sometimes, gets his way. Under Rizzo, the Lerners signed contracts worth more than $300 million with Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Michael Morse and four over-slot amateur draft picks last June.
Who imagined that, just as Davey Johnson’s private life — including heart surgery — allowed him to consider returning to managing, Jim Riggleman would quit the job in a huff with his team on an 11-1 run?
Baseball is a culture that believes in mythology, momentum and a bit of magic. How’s this? The Nats traded Jonathan Albaladejo, Ryan Langerhans and Matt Capps — with a net present value of very little — for obscure players who ended up being all-star reliever Tyler Clippard, cleanup hitter Morse and catcher-in-perpetuity Wilson Ramos.
The Nats hoped that two of their middle infielders — any two, please — would somehow equal one double-play combination to erase memories of Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard. Now, with Ian Desmond and 21-homer rookie Danny Espinosa entrenched in the jobs, they have to figure out what to do with Steve Lombardozzi and 2011 draft pick Anthony Rendon.