A Perceived Strength that Became a Weakness

 

This has been bench week here on Citizens of Natstown, and in thinking about some of the issues as well as Mike Rizzo's unwillingness to make moves with regards to the bench there is an obvious answer. Corey Brown's most comparable projection is Roger Bernadina, and while Jeff Kobernus and Will Rhymes are tearing up AAA neither has been or projects to be much more than what Steve Lombardozzi has been. In other words Mike Rizzo choose to stick with his struggling players rather than making a change to end up with one less player in the system and the exact same production at the majors.   

That is one view of it, and it is a logical one. The other is that since it can't get much worse Corey Brown, Will Rhymes, and Jeff Kobernus should have been given more of a shot, but with no obvious upgrades Mike Rizzo chose to do nothing. The question now is how did the Nationals get into this position? The answer is simple. They had the most complete roster in baseball as soon as Rafael Soriano was signed. Think back to Spring Training and how boring it was as the Nationals went through the motions of Spring Training with the roster having been set in February. That is important. It is in those early months of the season that MiLB free agents are signed, and the Nationals were not able to sign many because in reality no one wants to play in AAA. Instead of coming to the Nationals and risk sitting in AAA all season while the Nationals performed as expected they signed with lesser teams and a shot to play on a major league roster.  

As it turns out the Nationals could have easily used someone like Marlon Byrd over Tyler Moore or Brian Bixler over Steve Lombardozzi. The Nationals were perceived to have a set roster and struggled to sign the exact type of minor league depth they ended up needing. The type of minor league depth that could have saved the season, but those types of players didn't want to come to a team with such a set roster.  

It wasn't just on the position player side. Tons of starting pitching depth slipped through the Nationals fingers. Scott Kazmir was a pitcher most felt could be useful, but he wanted his comeback to have an earlier start date and signed with the Cleveland Indians and has helped them to stay in contention for the 2013 season. Kazmir or Roberto Hernandez were both pitchers who could have helped the Nationals as they've dealt with injuries and the underperformance of Dan Haren, but both wanted to go to teams with a more open roster, and both have helped teams to contend. By having such a set roster the Nationals missed out on some of the more interesting MiLB free agents that would have loved a chance to win, but preferred a chance to play. 

In sports sometimes a strength can become a weakness, and that is what has happened with the Nationals. Their perceived roster depth led MiLB free agents to sign elsewhere while the Nationals were left with what they had, and what they had ended up not being good enough. The 2014 off-season will be different. Chad Tracy's contract is up, Roger Bernadina is owed at least $1.6 million and should be non-tendered, it is hard to imagine Kurt Suzuki's $8.5 million option being picked up, and Hairston and Lombardozzi's jobs aren't exactly secure. The Nationals should enter Spring Training with at least a couple open spots on the bench, and with a strong core and a young exciting manager they will be a team that can offer a chance to play and a chance to win. On the pitching side it will be much the same. Taylor Jordan has shown promise and both AJ Cole and Robbie Ray will end the season at AA, but with Detwiler's injury history and the unknown nature of pitching prospects the Nationals should have one or two open rotation spots in Spring Training making it easier for them to appeal to MiLB free agents. What the lesson of the 2013 season really should be is the perception of a deep MLB roster isn't as important as a deep stock of AAA players. 

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