I know John Feinstein pretty well and like him very much. He’s been nothing but kind to me. His column today asserts the Nationals’ shutting down Stephen Strasburg cost them the 2013 season, and it doesn’t make much sense. If you made a list of reasons why the Nationals missed the playoffs in 2013, Strasburg’s shutdown would rank somewhere between the sequestration and Gio Gonzalez’s Instagram account.
Here are a few counterpoints to his argument:
1. I had a couple conversations, on and off the record, with players and coaches pretty much every day for six months. Not once, even in passing, did Strasburg’s shutdown come up as a problem for this year’s team. If the decision lingered into this year and caused “issues in what had been one of baseball’s most close-knit clubhouses,” the Nationals did a tremendous job concealing it for the hundreds and hundreds of hours I was around.
2. Feinstein posits the Nationals shouldn’t have shut down Strasburg because it made them sign Rafael Soriano. You need an entire Boy Scout troop to diagnose the knots in that logic. He is saying the Nationals never would have signed Soriano if Drew Storen never blew a save in Game 5, and the Nationals would have won the NLDS if Storen never blew the save, and that the Nationals would have unquestionably won the NLDS if Strasburg had pitched.
Soriano coughed up some leads, but 42 saves ruined the season? Tyler Clippard feeling bad for his friend in public is why the Nationals scored 3.7 runs per game under Rick Eckstein? It’s empty psychology.
3. Feinstein says the Nationals’ offseason moves were an attempt to improve the team and win a World Series to justify the Strasburg shutdown. I read them as, oh, I don’t know, an attempt to improve and win a World Series. Fault Mike Rizzo if you want for the execution of the shutdown or the very idea of it and what it meant to their 2012 chances. But I’ve constantly been struck by how at peace with the decision he is. He largely shrugged last year at the withering criticism. Stubbornness can at times be a fault of Rizzo’s, but in terms of not allowing the Strasburg uproar to shape his decision-making, stubbornness served him well.
Judging by the comment section, Feinstein’s column seemed to rankle a large segment of Nationals fans. They can take heart in remembering the Nationals didn’t shut down Strasburg this year, and that surely will do wonders for their chemistry, bullpen and playoff chances in 2014. Or is that not how it works?