Who is to blame for Nats' debacle?

Ben Krimmel
May 18, 2019 - 2:55 pm

Even in a 162 game season, 44 games is enough to make a judgment on how well a team has performed and where they are headed. 

And through the opening 44 games of the 2019 season, the Washington Nationals have been pretty, pretty, pretty bad and don't look like they're going to get that much better.

Since this is America, we now must ask this Constitutionally mandated question: Who do we blame for this debacle? 

The three prime candidates: Manager Dave Martinez, general manager Mike Rizzo, and managing principal owner Mark Lerner

First the manager, he has deserved plenty of the criticism he has received.

"There's too much talent, even with the injuries, for them to be struggling really quite this much. And I can certainly understand those calls coming from the fanbase," MLB correspondent Will Leitch told 106.7 The Fan this week

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And Rizzo: The offseason additions of Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Yan Gomes, and Brian Dozier haven't worked out and the bullpen has especially been a mess all season. (To address the bullpen, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist was fired at the beginning of May.)

Certainly, the players carry some of the weight because they haven't performed well on the field. And the bad injury luck is a factor deserving of a mention, too. 

But The Sports Junkies caller Jeff in McLean had one candidate at the top of his list: "I don't put it on the manager much or the GM, they have a little share, I put the problem on the owner. Because the owner was financially constrained or has chosen to be financially constrained." 

While The Junkies pointed out the Nats have one of the highest payrolls in MLB, Jeff does say in constructing the roster, the organization has not spent big in all areas. While starting pitcher Patrick Corbin got mega-bucks – like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg before him – the team hasn't spent big on the bullpen, didn't re-sign Bryce Harper, and have skimped at times on veterans at other positions, including the beleaguered bullpen. 

Yes, the Lerner's have shown a willingness to spend a healthy amount of money. However, the criticism against ownership from Jeff and others isn't unmerited. During spring training, Lerner said avoiding the luxury tax was a top goal: “It’s a pretty severe penalty if you go over and it’s been our goal all year to stay under that,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington

This was echoed by Rizzo in March: “I think we’ve got a really talented team that we’ve put together within the parameters of what we wanted to do,” he said. “We’re under the (luxury tax) and that’s where we want to stay.”

While the Nationals said the offer to Harper was the "best we can do," reports indicated it wasn't stacked with deferred payments. (The Junkies' Jason Bishop calling it a "crap offer.")

The Lerner's have nearly unlimited resources at their disposal. Why not blow the competition out of the water before the Nats window closes?

In July, Scherzer turns 35 and Strasburg turns 31. Anthony Rendon is a free agent after this season. Time is not on Washington's side.

What if the window has already closed?

"If the attendance is still down," J.P. Flaim said on 106.7 The Fan. "And if they're sub-.500, I wonder if, and we'll see if the Lerners direct Rizzo as the GM to start selling off guys. Even like somebody like Rendon, because he's unsigned."

Rendon, who like Harper is represented by Scott Boras, is a free agent after this season. With Harper in Philadelphia, many thought Rendon would be more likely to stay in Washington.

But with the Nationals are starring down another playoff-less season that may change. And when the trade deadline arrives, the Nats may be looking to shed payroll for the second-straight season.

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