Though the Nationals’ offseason has mostly mirrored the 2015 season in unmet hopes and expectations, the team plans fill a hole in the infield with an agreement to trade for Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. A former Gold Glove fielder and solid hitter, Phillips would replace Yunel Escobar, who was recently traded for reliever Trevor Gott.
The successful acquisition of Phillips would buck this offseason’s trend of coming up short on deals. As the Nationals bid farewell to many free agents, fans hoped that the team would shore up the bullpen and infield and possibly bring another power hitter to complement NL MVP Bryce Harper. However, pursuits of free agents Darren O’Day, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward proved fruitless.
With so many players choosing other team over the Nationals, it was natural to speculate that a potential factor was the dysfunction that has surfaced on a frequent basis over the past year. There was so much for the rival teams to use to poison the well: another epic collapse (this time before the playoffs), the reported trade deadline spending cap by a team who sign a record-breaking deal for a player at a perceived position of strength, the ill-conceived swap for Papelbon and the aftermath, and so forth.
The most recent example concerning the hiring of the new manager made me think another hire might be beneficial. It can be observed that general manager Mike Rizzo wheels and deals quite effectively. It can also be observed that while ownership has been willing to increase payroll, there have reportedly been some unique ways of implementing payroll controls, such as setting budgets at the beginning of the season and not deviating even in the midst of a pennant race.
The combination appears to have led to the delay in a much-needed bullpen fix last year until the Papelbon attempt lined up well quite possibly because of what was supposed to be a beneficial effect on the 2016 payroll. It is also that benefit that could have played into keeping Matt Williams in place until the bitter end rather than seeing if Bud Black (who by their hiring-then-not of him shows they had an interest) could inject life into the clubhouse and get the team into the playoffs. Local writers tried to point out the benefits of going for it in this window versus staying the course and bringing in someone with Papelbon’s history, while the Mets went to the World Series with two players they got at the deadline who were perfect and affordable fits for the Nats.
What this scenario drove home was that there needs to be another voice in the room to explain what needs to be explained in real time. There needs to be a guy who says “Papelbon? Really? Why not Clip?” or “Sure, we’re adding two months of payroll, but look at our window, and look at the playoff money we can snag!” This voice needs to speak to some baseball realities with experience, taking care of them while also holding the owner’s interest in proper regard. That voice is usually fulfilled by a team president or VP. It was supposed to be filled by Stan Kasten, but his track record while here was found wanting.
Someone who comes to mind is former Boston team president Larry Lucchino. Lucchino appears to be an ideal fit if he’s interested. He is an executive with a proven track record in baseball and has local roots and even a Super Bowl ring from his ownership stake in the 1983 Redskins. Though he retired his position in Boston this year, he is still engaged improve sports as the chairman of Boston’s trip AAA affiliate in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. If he’s looking for a major-league challenge again, he should look no further than his old stomping grounds. If anyone can help right the ship, he looks to fit the bill.