Think back for a minute to the spring of 2009. The Nationals had just cleaned out their leadership structure in the Dominican Republic, firing a handful of people in the wake of the Esmailyn Gonzalez news, and general manager Jim Bowden had resigned, leaving the baseball operation to assistant GM Mike Rizzo.
Then, in the summer, the Nationals fired manager Manny Acta, meaning they had Rizzo - still officially the assistant GM at that point - working with interim manager Jim Riggleman. The structure was, at least from the outside, uncertain, and in addition to signing No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg and shoring up a roster that would go on to win 59 games that season, the Nationals had to get their hierarchy in place.
All that seems like ancient history now. Rizzo is in charge, flanked by a deep cabinet of handpicked assistants, and Riggleman has the permanent manager's job. Team president Stan Kasten resigned, but as he left this month, he spoke confidently that the team's baseball operation was in good hands.
I bring this up because in the NL East right now, the Nationals suddenly look like an oasis of stability. The Marlins are hiring a new manager, having fired Fredi Gonzalez 70 games into the season. They were just turned down by former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, and could end up hiring interim manager Edwin Rodriguez.
Speaking of Gonzalez, he was just hired in Atlanta to replace retiring manager Bobby Cox. And the Mets? Well, they're a mess altogether. After a season filled with injuries on the field and black eyes off of it, the team fired general manager Omar Minaya (who used to be the Expos' GM, continuing the NL East carousel) and manager Jerry Manuel.
The Nationals are one of two teams in the division that's not trying to make a major hire right now. In terms of stability, they're nowhere near the Phillies - who are preparing to play in their third straight NLCS - but at least for the time being, they're in more stable shape than most of their division rivals.
What does that mean? It could be a temporary state, since manager Jim Riggleman is entering his final guaranteed contract year. The team has an option on Riggleman for 2012, so the 2011 season will be an important one for the manager.
But from a philosophical standpoint, the Nationals have never looked more settled. Rizzo is firmly in charge of the baseball operation, and judging by Kasten's parting remarks, could have the freedom to add a few pieces this winter. He's added a number of veteran baseball men to the front office, and scouts around the game believe the team is headed in the right direction - and could arrive sooner than expected.
It's a key winter for the Nationals, who still only won 69 games in 2010. At this point, though, they at least know who's setting the course for 2011, which is more than most of their NL East foes can say.