This is a tale of two teams. One has an average age of 27.8 and the other 31.8. One has a solid young core composed of a 20-year-old former Rookie of the Year outfielder with back-to-back 20-homer seasons, a young pitching staff with three top-of-the rotation starters who are finishing the season with a 3.50 ERA or lower, a converted third baseman playing second who has slashed line drives all over the park since being recalled, and veterans in a third baseman that always seems to be an .800 OPS hitter and right fielder who, after two disappointing seasons, has started to fit in with his new club. The other is losing two key pitchers to retirement, their 600-homer third baseman to suspension, the best second baseman in baseball to free agency. Plus, their Hall of Fame shortstop is 39 and missed the great majority of 2013 to injury and their ace pitcher finished the season early with a 4.78 ERA and didn't look well doing it.
If you haven't figured it out by now these two teams are the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals, and as of Tuesday evening one has 82 wins and the other 84. The similar records shouldn't hide the fact that these are two teams headed in two very different directions. They both dealt with injuries and an underperforming bench, but the Yankees' injuries are ones that don't look to get any better as most of their players head into their late 30s and early 40s. The Nationals' injuries were Wilson Ramos pulling his hamstring, Jayson Werth his groin and Bryce Harper running into a wall. Werth has missed time in many of his seasons, but most have been freak injuries, and there is no proof that Ramos or Harper will be injury-prone as their careers continue.
Looking at the future of these two clubs, that both had disappointing seasons, I know which one I would choose to manage, and that is a choice that pending free agent manager Joe Girardi is going to face this offseason. He is making $3 million this year and will certainly want a raise and is going to want multiple years, perhaps as many as five. It is going to cost money to get Girardi, but the Nationals are in their window. Once 2015 comes around, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond are scheduled to become free agents and with Harper and Strasburg's free agency looming at that time, they may not be able to keep them all.
If you judge the success of a season by making the playoffs, then 2013 was a wasted year. It was a winning season, but it wasn't what the Nationals wanted or expected, and as the offseason approaches the biggest question is going to be who manages them next season. Turning the team over to a first-year manager like Randy Knorr, Matt Williams, or Cal Ripken Jr. may not be the best idea. It also may not be the best idea to hire a could-be-fired manager like Mike Scioscia or Ron Gardenhire. They have both had their moments, but Girardi is the best manager on the market.
In his career, Girardi has had one losing season and that was his first year with the Florida Marlins, when he well exceeded expectations and was named Manager of the Year. Most of those winning seasons have to do with the players he was given, but Girardi knows how to get the most out of players, and that is the most important thing a manager does. He is also known as a good strategist and near perfectionist when it comes his binder of all possible situations and what the statistics say he should do. The Yankees had a lineup that featured Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez, and Girardi was still able to milk a winning season out of them. Imagine what he would do with the talent the Nats have to offer.
When it comes down to it, the Yankees, Nationals and possibly the Angels know what it will take to get Girardi and all of them have the money to make it happen. It is going to be Girardi's call, and when looking at the current situations and futures of those clubs who would you want to run for the next four to five seasons?
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.