Former Washington Nationals' GM and current ESPN analyst Jim Bowden handed out his offseason grades for major league teams this morning and gave the Nats a C+ to this point for their work in adding Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelly and Yusmeiro Petit to the bullpen (and Chris Heisey on a minor league deal).
This was, of course, written before yesterday's trade with the LA Angels, so it's unclear if the addition of Trevor Gott might have lifted the Nationals into B- territory.
"GM Mike Rizzo has done an excellent job in building quality depth in the bullpen with the signings of Perez, Kelley and Petit," Bowden writes.
"However," he added, "[Rizzo] must now focus on improving the lineup with another left-handed hitter," and focus on, "... adding more speed with a leadoff batter who can play second base or center field."
Rizzo was asked on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, if, after the pursuit of Ben Zobrist with designs on having him play second fell through, the Nationals were looking for someone else to play second, or if a left-handed bat, wherever he plays, was the goal?
"In a perfect world, the lefty bat is important, but we want to improve our club," Rizzo said. "And the balance in the lineup is an aspect, but it's not something that's the end-all and be-all, we'd like to be more balanced, but if we have a quality player that improves our lineup and improves our club, then we certainly are going to look at all aspects of it."
[ed. note - "The Nationals reportedly made a play for Jason Heyward, but though they were reportedly finalists for Heyward's services, he appears to have signed on with the Chicago Cubs..."]
Multiple sources indicate Heyward has indeed chosen Cubs over Cards, Nats.— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) December 11, 2015
Cubs are believed to have gotten heyward for less than $200M. Apparently taking less to be at addison and clark. @GDubCub 1st— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 11, 2015
So where do the Nationals turn next in their search for a left-handed bat? The trade market? Another free agent target?
How about finding a leadoff man? Both Rizzo and new Nats' manager Dusty Baker were asked this past week if they had a top-of-the-order hitter on the roster right now?
"The prototypical leadoff hitter, I don't see on our current roster," Rizzo said.
"We have guys that can handle that role. We have guys that have done that role before. Lineup construction is a question for when you talk to Dusty [Baker]. You can ask him then."
Reporters did ask Baker when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday afternoon:
Q: Dusty, looking at your roster now, who do you kind of see as leadoff candidates?
DUSTY BAKER: I'm not sure, man. You're asking me, until I see them or until I work with them -- I mean, leadoff candidates? You don't know if Trea Turner is ready. I've asked questions. Mike Taylor, you don't know. You don't know if we might even acquire somebody.
I mean, leadoff man is probably one of the toughest guys to find in the batting order. There aren't many Lou Brocks and Davey Lopes, and the all-time man. Shoot, I wouldn't mind bringing Rickey [Henderson] back, you know what I mean? A leadoff man is hard to find.
Pick Turner, Dusty! Pick Turner! That is, of course, assuming that the 22-year-old shortstop starts the season in D.C.
So we know what the Nationals did do thus far, and they confirmed the deals with Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley this morning...
... but while the Nats added a number of relievers to the mix in the bullpen, they haven't yet traded any of their late-inning arms as it was rumored they might.
As of now, both Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon remain in the Nationals' pen, which, Rizzo said, is fine with him:
"They're both highly-talented, extremely competitive, very good relief pitchers and if that's your eighth inning and ninth inning guys, we feel comfortable with that."
Speaking of the bullpen... there was one report in the last twenty-four hours, that in spite of his current legal issues, the Nationals are still interested in acquiring Aroldis Chapman:
Washington Nationals have "a significant interest" in Aroldis Chapman, a source with knowledge of the situation... https://t.co/lqrwwmSaYo— Marly Rivera ~ ESPN (@MarlyRiveraESPN) December 10, 2015
The Nationals are still looking for a bullpen coach, as well, as both Rizzo and Baker discussed this week.
"That's a Dusty decision," Rizzo said when asked if they'd picked one yet. "He's going to choose the bullpen coach in concert with Mike Maddux, so that's a question that should be posed to Dusty. But as I spoke to him earlier today, he had a few names that he was going to toss around and we were going to discuss them later."
Baker said the Nationals were still looking at their options.
"We'll fill that in the next couple of days," he said. "We'd like to fill it before we get out of here."
Summing things up as the Winter Meetings came to an end, Rizzo said they had talked about some possibilities and were considering their options...
"Laying a lot of groundwork," he explained.
"Some things come together faster than others, but if we were to leave here without making an impactful trade or free agent signing, it wouldn't shock me, but it also wouldn't shock me if we did something here."
The Nationals did make the one impactful trade after Rizzo last spoke to reporters, sending Escobar to LA in return for the young, controllable, hard-throwing, Gott... what's next?