WASHINGTON -- For years, the Nationals' front office has tried to ward off any notions that their competitive window is starting to close. Even after a disappointing 82-80 finish last season in which they missed the postseason for the first time since 2015 and then an offseason during which they
WASHINGTON -- For years, the Nationals' front office has tried to ward off any notions that their competitive window is starting to close. Even after a disappointing 82-80 finish last season in which they missed the postseason for the first time since 2015 and then an offseason during which they faced the threat of losing their best hitter, the Nats were still focused on building a contender.
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General manager Mike Rizzo said at the end of the regular season that he believed 2018 was an anomaly. After winning four National League East titles since '12, the Nationals want to get back on top of their division and compete for a World Series once again.:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
To do so, the Nats were one of the most aggressive and active teams in baseball. They added Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough to their bullpen in October. The next month, they acquired a pair of catchers in Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. They spent December revamping their starting rotation, first by landing the prize of the free-agent starting pitching market in Patrick Corbin and then by signing Aníbal Sánchez. Brian Dozier was brought in to start at second base, and they re-signed Matt Adams and Jeremy Hellickson after the two performed well last season.
Those are moves for a team that believes it can win in 2019, as it adds solid pieces to a team that just missed the playoffs in hopes of putting itself back over the top.
There are several reasons for the Nationals to be confident that they have not reached the end of their competitive run. Max Scherzer is still a perennial NL Cy Young Award candidate, and even at the age of 34, he has shown no signs of decline. He will anchor a strong rotation alongside Stephen Strasburg and Corbin to make up one of the best trios in baseball.
Anthony Rendon, who is eligible for free agency after 2019, has consistently been one of the best hitters in the NL. He and Trea Turner form one of the best left sides of the infield in all of baseball. Washington also carries two of the best young outfielders in the league in Juan Soto, who finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting, and Victor Robles, who will be a favorite to win the award this year. That's a core of position players who are young and talented enough to create a new window.
No matter where Bryce Harper takes his next at-bat, the Nats think they have built a winner.
And the Nationals understand they will be playing in a more competitive division in 2019. In '16-17, they cruised to division titles and locked up a playoff spot by early September, but the NL East is vastly more balanced this season. The Braves are coming off a division title in '18 and added a former American League MVP Award winner at third base in Josh Donaldson. The Phillies have been aggressive in free agency and are still involved in talks with Harper and Manny Machado. The Mets have revamped their roster, adding names like Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz, and they are aiming to compete this year.
So the Nats know their path to returning to the postseason will not be easy, and they want to get off to a much better start this season than a year ago, when they were 13-16 through the end of April. In Spring Training, they will preach a focus on fundamentals, improved defense, becoming more athletic and fixing the "little things" they believed set them back in 2018.
And the goal this offseason has been to build a team capable of playing to those strengths. The Nationals do not believe their window is closing, and they made each move this offseason to do all they could to ensure that window remains open for years to come.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.