The Washington Nationals’ Expensive Title Quest

Washington Nationals left fielder Howie Kendrick high-fives teammate Daniel Murphy after hitting a first-inning home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Phillies' 5-4 win on Sept. 9 at Nationals Park in Southeast. (John E. De Freitas/The Washington Informer)

When baseball fans consider the top payrolls in the sport, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers probably spring to mind, as the two franchises boast a combined payroll of about $500 million this year.

But a new report has documented an even more expensive effort to reach baseball’s promised land.

Sports website Bleacher Report published an extensive report that the Washington Nationals have spent $900 million in player salaries over the past six years seeking to bring home a World Series championship.

Spotrac puts the club’s 2017 expenditures at about $188 million and the franchise has thus gone from spending relatively modest dollars on a whole lot of nothing to spending a whole lot of dollars on relatively modest success, according to Bleacher Report.

“Dawn broke on this era when the Nats drafted Stephen Strasburg at No. 1 in 2009 and Bryce Harper at No. 1 in 2010, and it officially came to light when they joined forces on the big club in 2012,” noted the story’s author, Zachary D. Rymer.

Six years in, it’s produced a .572 regular-season winning percentage and four NL East titles. If there’s any hope to be found in these payroll figures, it’s that the most expensive Nationals team may also be the best one yet. However, Rymer said, the path ahead is rocky and littered with pitfalls.

The Nationals are projected for an NLDS matchup against the Chicago Cubs, which are a year removed from a championship and in the midst of a red-hot second half.

If the Nats survive, they could face the similarly hot Arizona Diamondbacks or the Dodgers, which remain formidable despite their recent slide.

Regarding the Nats themselves, an offense that’s already been slumping could keep doing so if Harper isn’t himself. Their starters come with questions too. Matt Scherzer’s been up and down lately. Gio Gonzalez’s good fortune with men on base can’t last forever, and nobody ever knows if Strasburg is safe from the injury bug, Rymer wrote.

Assuming Harper gets his timing back, the Nationals lineup could indeed be back to its full and frightening capacity.

Given that Washington is already heading into October with a star-studded starting rotation and a much-improved bullpen, a scenario is forming in which it’ll have no excuses not to win it all, Rymer said.

But that sounds like the kind of trap that only a Harper-era Nationals team could spring, doesn’t it?

Turning this era into a proper dynasty, however, has proven difficult.

The “D” word can’t be entertained until a team has secured several pennants and a World Series title — or, at the least, won a postseason series.

The 2012 Nationals won 98 games and came close to beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Alas, a ninth-inning collapse in Game 5 wasted, among other things, Harper’s first postseason home run.

The 2014 Nationals won 96 games and went up against a 88-win San Francisco Giants squad in the NLDS. Alas, hitters not named Harper fell into a stupor, and it was over in four games.

Most recently, the 2016 Nationals won 95 games and took a 2-1 lead over the Dodgers in the NLDS. Alas, even Harper’s .458 on-base percentage in the series couldn’t stop another five-game defeat.

The pre-Harper clubs had a good excuse for being a perennial doormat: They couldn’t compete financially. Low payrolls were a fact of life in Montreal, and the move to Washington only brought slow improvement at first.

The franchise has thus gone from spending relatively modest dollars on a whole lot of nothing to spending a whole lot of dollars on relatively modest success.

ADVERTISEMENT

About Stacy Brown 337 Articles
I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.