Every iota of the anticipation, excitement and trepidation that surround the Nats is totally warranted. One of baseball’s most promising but least battle-tested teams faces an appointment with its destiny. For the next five seasons, at the least, while Stephen Strasburg and most of the club’s other key players remain under team control, we will see its fate unfold.
What will this era produce — trips to the playoffs or World Series? Or, instead, what will it fail to create? We’re about to find out.
Sometimes, such glorious windows of opportunity crash down on the fingers of gifted but unproven young teams. Such sagas can turn sad in any sport. The Capitals are now in the fifth season of what was seen as an Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin-Green era that would provide multiple trips to the Stanley Cup finals. That may yet happen. But the Caps already serve as an object lesson to the Nats. “Main chances” don’t come often. Success is never just a matter of time. In the end, time always runs out.
On Monday’s first workout in Viera, Fla., the Nats’ clock starts ticking.
What is certain already is that the Nats are one of the best stories in the sport. The Washington roster is so young, or else under long-term contract, that the Nats can already name an entire 2013 team. Assuming a contract extension for Ryan Zimmerman and normal development by minor leaguers, the Nats also know almost every key player for ’14 and ’15. If anything, they may have to find room for four elite, far-over-slot draft picks taken last June, a spending stunt that is now forbidden by baseball.
Strasburg, Gonzalez, Drew Storen, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Harper, Anthony Rendon, Henry Rodriguez and others, are all under team control through 2016 at least. That’s a five-year map of the future.
This level of roster stability, providing a chance to grow up together, almost never happens in the flux of modern baseball. But the Nats are doing it now. Only one free agent (Werth) is signed past this season. Few teams are so close to being entirely home grown. Trades, such as those that netted Ramos, Michael Morse and Gonzalez, are as old-fashioned as it gets.