Three things Nats fans have to be thankful for

A very Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there, from those around here in the DMV, to those a bit further from the district, to those checking in from abroad looking to get their Nationals fix on this holiday morning.

Hope your day is filled with lots of great food, quality time with family and friends, and tryptophan-induced naps. A Cowboys loss wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, either.

Also, Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate. The festivities came a bit early this year, but that just means fewer days waiting around for latkes.

In baseball terms, Red Sox fans probably have the most to be thankful for this year after a spectacular turnaround from a disastrous 2012 season landed the Sox their third World Series title in a 10-year span. But that doesn’t mean other organizations don’t have things they should appreciate this time of year, when we reflect on all that we have going for us.

Here are three things that I think Nats fans should be thankful for this holiday season:

1. The fact that an 86-win season is now a disappointment

Had the Nationals put up an 86-win season three years ago, it would have been cause for celebration. Had they done it five years ago, it would have shocked the baseball world. Now, 86 wins in a season is a massive disappointment.

After struggling mightily for quite a few years, the Nationals have not only worked their way out of the NL East basement, but they’ve quickly become a contender. The 2013 season was obviously a frustrating one given the level of talent on the ballclub and the expectations that everyone had for where the team might go. But that frustration in and of itself is an indication of just how far this team has come in a short amount of time.

That’s not to say that if the Nats follow up with another 86-win season in 2014 that fans should be sprinting into the streets to celebrate three straight above-.500 campaigns. But let’s not ignore the fact that the 86 wins the Nats posted in 2013 were the second-most the Nationals/Expos franchise had put up since 1997. This organization has turned a corner, and now it hopes to reach the next level.

2. D.C. is now a desirable place to play

To an extent, this might piggyback with the points I made above, but just a few short years ago, the Lerner family had a hard time getting attractive free agents to want to take their money. Some guys who hit the open market looking to cash in with big multi-year deals didn’t even consider the Nats, largely because they felt the team wouldn’t be in contention in August and September.

That’s not the case anymore. The Nats are viewed as an organization on the rise with a young base of talent that should keep them in contention for at least the next few years. The fan base is growing and getting more educated about the game. Attendance is rising.

Free agents now have a legitimate interest in listening to Mike Rizzo when he discusses contract terms, and not just because they want to use an offer from the Nats as leverage to land a better deal elsewhere.

3. A host of exciting young players

OK, this might be a cliché point to make given that we’ve been discussing the Nats’ young wave of talent for the last couple of years now. But that doesn’t make it less true. As currently constructed, the Nationals have a lengthy list of exciting 20-something players who make this team quite enjoyable to watch (and cover).

We all know the names. Bryce Harper. Stephen Strasburg. Jordan Zimmermann. Ian Desmond. Gio Gonzalez. Anthony Rendon. Wilson Ramos. That’s a pretty impressive core right there, and I’m not even including Ryan Zimmerman (who is still just 29 despite the fact 2014 will be his 10th big league season).

There are a host of talented teams out there, but not many have the level of relatively young yet established talent on their roster like the Nationals do.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, I’m thankful for a number of things this year, including a loving family, great friends, a fantastic job and top-notch bosses and co-workers. But I’m also thankful that I have a loyal group of readers who help make this job as fun as it is.

I truly appreciate all of you for reading and interacting with me, whether it’s in the comment section or on Twitter, and wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

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