Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Is this the Nats new 2011?


Trevor Williams has been found gold in 2024. Photo via Federal Baseball via USA Today

With a win against arch-rival and 1st place Baltimore on 5/7/24, the Nats have moved above .500 for the first time since 2021. The winning pitcher, fittingly, was Trevor Williams, who has gone from a 5th starter competition in spring training with the typical cattle call of veteran 1yr MLFAs to now sitting in the top 10 of all of baseball for pitchers in various categories (wins, W/L pct, pitcher WAR, ERA, FIP, and ERA+). Yes its SSS for Williams… but he looks great for now.

The team is playing .500 ball so far in 2024 without contributions from the following leading players the team depended on in 2023: Lane Thomas (hurt and ineffective), Josiah Grey (hurt, and ineffective), Jeimer Candelario (traded), and Stone Garrett (60-day DL). That’s 4 of the top 6 WAR producers from the 2023 season.

Instead, they’re getting the found gold of Williams, CJ Abrams stepping up in a massive way (that even MLB-general observers are noticing), Jesse Winker going from MLFA to top performer, Jacob Young shockingly hitting .300 in the majors a year after basically not even being a prospect, and Mitchell Parker more or less dominating in his first few MLB starts. It’s crazy, really. All of these guys could be first month mirages, or they could stick. And we’re now at .500 without Cavalli or any of our 1st round draft picks for the last 5-6 years, without our cache of top prospects, and by limping by on trade acquisitions and FAs.

But, my more salient point of this post is as follows. Here’s the W/L records of the Nats during a period of time more than a decade ago:

  • 2009: 59-103
  • 2010: 69-93
  • 2011: 80-81
  • 2012: 98-64

It doesn’t take that long to go from zero to hero. The team bottoms out in 2008/2009 which gives them top picks to get Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in 2009/2010. They maintain a top10 pick after 2010 which gets them Anthony Rendon in 2011. All of these guys subsequently contribute to the run of success the team had throughout the entire 2010s, culminating with a WS title in 2019. And once the team looked competent enough to compete after 2011, Rizzo felt good enough to start cashing in lesser prospects to get the pieces we needed (think Gio Gonzalez, Adam Eaton, Doug Fister, plus the Trea turner/Joe Ross fleecing) and to start signing FAs to augment as needed (Werth, LaRoche, Haren … and eventually Scherzer).

So, the question is … are we now seeing the same pattern in 2024 that we saw in 2011?

Here’s our last few seasons….

  • 2022: 55-107
  • 2023: 71-91
  • 2024: we’re sitting at 18-17 … can we finish close to .500?

Here we go again. 2020’s poor finish netted us Brady House (oh, and Jacob Young). 2021’s poor finish netted us Elijah Green in the 1st (and Trey Lipscomb later on). 2022’s bottoming out gave us Dylan Crews. And the general post-2019 malaise allowed us to flip expiring contracts for a slew of players who are contributing now (Ruiz, Grey, Gore, Abrams) and a one particular player who will be contributing soon (Wood).

Imagine if this team does the right thing and cashes in on the players it should (i’m talking about every 1yr FA or expiring deal; that means Winker, Williams, Rosario, Robles, and Gallo). I’d move Corbin if we could get anything for him. Don’t make the same mistake they made last year in NOT trading Thomas and Finnegan and Garrett; get prospects now. By this time next year we’ll have an OF consisting of Young, Wood, and Crews, costing like a grand total of $2.6M (which is about how much we paid Corbin for his first three 2024 starts) and we can back them up with Call in the short term. Imagine if we could get a decent SP prospect or a new closer or a AA-level slugger for one of these 2024-one-year-wonders, someone who could contribute soon.

Can 2025 be our return to glory?

i’m just saying …. history repeats itself, and I see some very distinct patterns right now.

Written by Todd Boss

May 8th, 2024 at 9:57 am

Posted in Nats in General

4 Responses to 'Is this the Nats new 2011?'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Is this the Nats new 2011?'.

  1. I think the 2011 squad is ahead of the 2024 squad for a few reasons: (1) nobody on the 40-man roster in 2024 is as valuable an asset as either R. Zim or Stras was in 2011. I’d listen to an argument that Gore is more valuable than J. Zim, but not Stras. And it’s certainly possible that Abrams reaches R. Zim heights, but that hasn’t happened yet; (2) a larger percentage of the total organizational talent was in MLB in 2011 compared to 2024. In 2011, only Harper and Rendon were still in the minors whereas Desmond, Espinosa, and several of the Prospects Who Became Gio had already made their MLB debuts. In 2024, the organization is counting on big contributions from Wood, Crews, Cavalli, and House to goose the next playoff run, and they are all unproven to a large extent.

    On the other hand, the 2024 organization is in a better position contract-wise to spend and fill in holes and otherwise improve the roster. Putting the Stras contract debacle to the side, the 2024 organization has no big monetary commitments, whereas the 2011 org owed big money to Werth and was about to owe big money to R. Zim. The 2024 org’s lineup, in particular, is going to be young and cheap for a long time. And, for the first time in forever, the organization seems to have a surplus of “fifth starter types” who can competently fill in for inevitable injuries to the rotation.

    I think competing for a WC in 2025 is realistic. But, unlike the 2011-12 era Nats, I think the current organization’s strengths are on the hitting side of the ledger and not the pitching side. I’d lean in to that and take some of the organizations financial flexibility to . . . sign Juan Soto to play 1B/DH for the next decade-plus at $40M a year. His youth corresponds well to the Nats’ current core, and walks don’t slump.

    Obviously the Nats need quite a bit of help in the rotation to be a real threat in the playoffs (Gore and Cavalli have ace-potential stuff, but I wouldn’t bet on either of them getting there). The problem with buying a FA starting pitcher in the ’24-25 offseason is the uncertainty I have about the team’s prospects in ’25. With starting pitchers, you *know* you’re getting their best years at the beginning of the contract. I’d rather the team save its dollars for a starting pitcher for the following offseason (when we’d have more certainty about the quality of the roster in’26) and instead try to mash to a playoff spot in ’25. Just my two cents.


    8 May 24 at 11:19 am

  2. it’s been a better than expected start for sure. the danger for me is chasing a few more wins right now with moves based on short term successes.

    moving Abrams out of the leadoff spot is an example. Young’s success notwithstanding Abrams was embracing the get on base philosophy while still hitting with some power. since moved to #2 OBP has dropped from .361 to .241. small sample I know but why mess with a (potential) star to accommodate a role player.


    9 May 24 at 9:48 am

  3. Derek: probably a fair point that our 2024 depends more on hope than on proven delivery. But also far that we’re going to be in a much better financial position come the end of the 2024 season 9when $35M/year goes away on Corbin).

    For me, a massive part of this story is how well Cavalli comes back. If he’s a #2 starter, we’re goign to be well on our way. I sense we’ll be drafting a college arm in June, who should move up fast and could contribute 2nd half of 2025. Grey and Gore need to perform as they are expected to. There’s no #1 mlb-wide ace here, so we may have to buy/acquire it.

    I’d like to see the team scuffle along at .500, flirting with WC but then at the last minute go on a losing streak that convinces rizzo to sell assets. I’d much rather trade all these FAs to be for assets than try to scrape into a one-and-done road playoff WC game.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 24 at 12:06 pm

  4. @Todd – I get being very happy with that scenario – fading from WC contention ahead of the trade deadline, flipping expiring contracts for 3-5 prospects that slot into the back half of top 30 lists, finishing the year around 75 wins. Given our offseason and our preseason expectations, that’s a great season. Add in the extremely watchable brand of baseball and a couple of young ML players showing strong development and any Nats fan should be extremely happy with that outcome.

    But if we’re in contention (ie >25% chance of a WC), the team just can’t throw that away. Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. You say “one and done”, and maybe, but maybe not. 40% of the time we win that game, and then who knows?

    I mean, it’s not like our trade deadline haul is likely to include any FV50 players anyway. If the Cubs are desperate and willing to give us Cade Horton for Finn and Harvey and Williams, then sure. But it’s more likely no team hits Rizzo’s prices, and we just give it our best shot, likely fall short, and roll into 2025 with some valuable experience and 4 fewer FV40 prospects in the system. And that would also be a very successful season.


    9 May 24 at 1:44 pm

Leave a Reply