Wednesday, December 5, 2012
"World Series or bust"
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If there was any question about the Nationals' primary objective in 2013, Davey Johnson erased all doubts Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.
"World Series or bust," the veteran manager said. "That's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that."
The Nationals better be comfortable with it, because the entire baseball world is thinking the same thing after watching this franchise win 98 games last season and then bolster the best young roster in the sport with a bonafide center fielder and an All-Star right-hander before the Winter Meetings even reached the halfway mark.
Last week's Denard Span trade was lauded throughout the industry, and Tuesday's signing of Dan Haren -- which won't be official until he passes a physical on Thursday -- received positive reviews as well.
If Mike Rizzo can convince Adam LaRoche to accept a two-year offer to return at first base, the fifth-year general manager might just lock up his second straight Executive of the Year award before pitchers and catchers ever report for spring training.
Seriously, how many clubs can claim to have nearly their entire roster set three weeks before Christmas? At this point, the Nationals' only remaining needs are a first baseman (which isn't really a need since Michael Morse is already signed in case LaRoche doesn't return) and a left-handed reliever (either a returning Michael Gonzalez or perhaps a signing of free agent J.P. Howell).
Otherwise, they're set.
The lineup? In place. The rotation? Five-deep thanks to the addition of Haren. The bullpen? Six-deep already. The bench? Already finalized with Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina and whichever catcher isn't starting on a given day.
"Holy moly, I've got a lot of good players," Johnson said after rattling off those bench players.
No disputing that. The Nationals not only have as good of a starting lineup and rotation as there is in baseball, they've also got as many viable backup options as anyone in the sport.
With that kind of talent and depth, though, comes a level of expectation this franchise has never experienced before. There was mild excitement entering 2012. There will be a giant bull's-eye on everyone's back entering 2013.
"If we're not the favorite this year, I'm going to be embarrassed with all you guys that didn't pick me," Johnson said. "My guys were totally confident last year. We knew going into the year, if we just did the things we were capable of doing, we'd be hard to beat. ... But this is one of the best ballclubs I've ever had to manage."
Not every ballclub would respond well to that kind of pressure. We'll have to wait and see how the Nationals deal with it. But if nothing else, Johnson believes their October experience -- culminating with a heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS -- will pay dividends once the roster reconvenes in Viera.
"I thought the one drawback we had was the experience of being in the big games," the manager said. "Some of our young guys didn't really handle that big-game situation. But they did so much and went so far, I think now we're prepared to handle any kind of situation it throws at us."
Not that the Nationals need any extra motivation, but the fact Johnson has already announced this will be his final season in uniform certainly will push them to try and win it all for their retiring skipper.
Rizzo has done his part, assembling a roster without glaring holes and with the flexibility needed to overcome injuries and other unforeseen events.
And he's managed to do it all before everyone closes up shop at a Winter Meetings where seemingly every other franchise is scrambling to fix itself.
"This is what you strive for," Rizzo said. "This is why we constructed the roster the way we did. It's always advantageous to have young, controllable players that are good. It was part of our strategy, and we're kind of reaping the benefits of it today by not being forced to do any kind of major overhaul."
Nope, the pieces are all in place. There will be a few tweaks between now and mid-February, but once this team takes the field for the first time, the roster will be set and the goal will be clear.
World Series or bust.