The DC summer sports talk has been focused on two young arms, RG3 and Stephen Strasburg. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo made the proclamation before the season started that Stephen Strasburg was going to be shutdown afer 160 innings while he continues to come back from Tommy John surgery. Rizzo stuck to his word and Strasburg is out of the line-up and will miss the first playoff appearance since the team moved to DC from Montreal. The debate on whether to ride Strasburg or sit him is tired and has been addressed ad nauseum. What needs to be addressed is the mismanagement by the Nationals and Rizzo in handling this situation. But as is typical of the DC media, unless it is the Redskins, there will be no real critical addressing of the decisions of a DC area team if they do good during the regular season. Just look at the Caps…more on that later.
The Nationals came into this season with many thinking they were going to be a potential wildcard playoff team. That story started changing early in the season when the team was winning and that early season surge didn’t fade into a summer time slump. Prior to the All-Star break in early July the conversation started in the DC sports scene about that 160 innings limit for Strasburg and how the team could go about stretching his starts out to make him available for the playoffs. Two simple solutions were suggested, either add a day between starts to extend his availability or shut him down for a couple of weeks as if he had a minor injury and bring him back in September to get back into the rotation and up to speed for the playoffs. What did Mike Rizzo do? Nothing. Management by inaction. Is he taking some heat for this? A little, but not nearly enough. Imagine the outcry from the DC media if this had been RG3 and Bruce Allen/Mike Shanahan had put a game limit on him of 14 games in the season and come November the Redskins were rolling at 9-2 and surprisingly looking like a playoff team and instead of managing his games they ride him to 10-4 and decide to sit him for Grossman or Cousins for the final couple of games and the playoffs. Do you think they would be given the relative pass Rizzo has gotten for his failure to manage his playing time and making the teams ace pitcher unavailable for the playoffs?
This of course isn’t unique to the Nationals. George McPhee gets the same deference from the DC media they are giving Rizzo. McPhee has trotted out largely the same roster year after year, only to see the same results in the playoffs. Each year come the trade deadline he will tell us, the fans, that he didn’t make the big trade because no player that was available was an upgrade on what was on the team but that there is always the free agency period. Free agency rolls around and he is not in on a star player because they were asking for so much money and they will now have the flexibility to make in season moves. Rinse, repeat. So here we are as Philly gets Pronger; New York Richards; Chicago Hossa; Minnesota Suter and Parise, etc. Sure, any one move might not be the right move or possible, and McPhee could be correct looking at each situation individually. But it is seven years and largely the same roster at the top and the same excuses being trotted out time after time. The Caps haven’t made a big splash since the Jaromir Jagr trade, with everything else being drafts and role players via trade.
There are two conclusions I can draw from this. First, the DC sports media could take some lessons from the sports media in other cities and hold general managers to task for failing to win championships, instead of praising them for being successful during the regular season. This isn’t little league soccer where everyone gets a trophy just for participating. This is professional sports and about championships and Washington, DC has not had a championship since the Redskins over 20 years ago and only one appearance in a Conference Final or Final since then with the Capitals in 1998. Winning in the regular season and playoff appearances should not be good enough.
Second, we need to get some general managers that are willing to make bold moves to improve their teams. McPhee and Rizzo have built competitive teams, and deserve much praise for that. But they need to learn to think boldly and make creative moves to truly make their teams contenders that have all their weapons at their availability. It has been a long time to be able to say this, but they need to look at the bold move the Redskins made in trading away 3 first round picks and a second round pick to acquire the first round pick this past year to acquire RG3. It’s only been one week with him, but as I wrote after Week 1 that move appears to be the bold move that has changed the fortunes of the franchise. As for Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards…well that is a disaster that is basically 30 years old at this point.