Strasburg news should be final indicator it’s time to rebuild

It’s impossible not to consider this week one of the most consequential in Nationals history. We don’t yet know how it will end, but based on what has already transpired and what could be coming next, the ramifications for the franchise - both in the short- and long-term - are enormous.

It would be one thing if this was strictly about Friday’s trade deadline, but it’s not. There’s more, and this one might be more important than anything else that happens. More important than Max Scherzer possibly being traded. More important than Trea Turner learning he tested positive for COVID-19 seconds after crossing the plate on Josh Bell’s homer in Philadelphia. More important than the team free-falling out of contention and preparing for a full-scale, late-July roster sale.

The most significant thing to happen this week (so far) was the announcement Tuesday afternoon that Stephen Strasburg is having surgery to repair neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. It’s a devastating injury for any pitcher, and its potential impact on the Nationals franchise is enormous.

Let’s first acknowledge we have no way of knowing at this point how Strasburg will emerge from this procedure. It’s possible he makes a full recovery, is back pitching in 2022 and makes it through the remainder of his contract with the Nats without any long-lasting effects of it.

But the odds are stacked greatly against him now. Though a majority of pitchers who have thoracic outlet surgery return to the majors, only a few have returned to their pre-surgery form.

Strasburg-Departs-With-Lessard-Sidebar.jpgPlain and simple, the Nationals cannot assume Strasburg will ever be an effective pitcher again.

And the ramifications of that realization are vast and sobering for the entire organization.

For the last decade, Mike Rizzo has built a roster designed to win on the broad shoulders of its dominant rotation. Every year the Nats have made the postseason, they’ve boasted one of the best starting staffs in baseball. Every year they haven’t, the rotation has proven mediocre or worse.

We’ve seen the bad side of the equation now in three of the last four years, and it’s no coincidence Strasburg missed significant time due to injury in each of those three seasons. The lone outlier: 2019, when he led the league in innings pitched and then put together one of the greatest runs in postseason history, culminating with his World Series MVP honor.

To envision the Nationals returning to some form of contention in 2022 is to envision a healthy Strasburg among those leading the way. It just got a lot harder to envision that.

Which is why Rizzo this morning may be even more tempted than he already was to tear his roster down to its foundation, trade away many prominent players and begin the process of rebuilding it for the long run.

Does it really make sense to retain Scherzer now? Would re-signing him this winter be the prudent move? Would he even want to be part of what figures to be Year One of a rebuilding project? Painful as it is to accept the reality of the situation, it simply doesn’t make sense for the Nationals to keep him any longer.

And if they’re heading into 2022 without Scherzer and without any way of knowing if Strasburg will return, what reason is there for the Nats to restock and make another attempt to contend? Even in a scenario that included Scherzer and a healthy Strasburg, they’d still be counting on Patrick Corbin to bounce back from two ragged seasons and serve as a top No. 3 starter.

And we haven’t discussed the lineup or bullpen yet.

The time has come for some difficult decisions to be made. They’re difficult emotionally, because the players involved were directly responsible for bringing this town its first World Series championship in 95 years. But at this point, they shouldn’t be difficult practically, because the writing on the wall could not be clearer.

Hey, give the Nationals credit for making another run at it this year. They felt it was worth it. And ultimately it proved too difficult a task, given the injuries they suffered and the lack of depth they had to try to make up for it.

A similar approach to the 2022 season can’t fly anymore. Not with Tuesday’s news about Strasburg. Not with a host of fellow executives jamming Rizzo’s phone with interest in Scherzer, plus the other veterans now available before Friday’s deadline.

The Nationals as we’ve known them for the last decade are in their final days together. It’s going to be painful to watch the dismantling. But it might be more painful to watch them foolishly try to keep the band together any longer, clinging to the false hope they all might have one run left in them.

blog comments powered by Disqus