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Washington Nationals building roster for defense of NL East crown in 2017

It’s 2017 now, so let’s do a quick reset in terms of what the Washington Nationals have done this winter, and what they have to do before the start of Spring Training...

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo traded for two of the bigger names added to the roster this winter, sending minor league right-hander Pedro Avila to San Diego in return for catcher Derek Norris and trading right-handers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to Chicago in return for outfielder Adam Eaton.

Rizzo talked during the Winter Meetings about the process of assembling a roster for the upcoming season, while keeping the future in mind at all times.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he explained. “All those things go into consideration when we employ our post-season, after-last-year’s strategy on how we can improve ourselves.

“We’ve got ourselves a good solid nucleus of a ballclub right now. We think that we’re coming off a 95-win season with just about the same cast of characters on the club, so we think we have a good team. We have a great farm system, we’ve got guys that are on the come that are going to backfill some of the positions that we’ve lost and we like our chances. We like our chances today, we like our chances long-term and we like our scouting and player development and the farm system they built.”

Rizzo said he was still comfortable with the organizational depth, especially pitching depth, even after he traded two major league-ready starters (Giolito and Lopez) for Eaton, an everyday outfielder coming off a solid, three-season run with the White Sox, which saw the 28-year-old put up a combined .290/.362/.422 line with an average of 28 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs and 16 stolen bases over that stretch.

“We certainly got what we wanted in Adam Eaton,” Rizzo told reporters after the deal was announced. He also noted that he thought it was a good deal for both sides.

“The White Sox should and do feel good about what they acquired in this [trade],” he said.

“The good thing is we have depth behind [Giolito, Lopez and Dunning] in the prospect ranks. We have five quality starters that are already in the major leagues and signed long-term. We feel good about where we're at as an organization and as a franchise.”

But, as he explained at another point this winter, all these moves are made with both the immediate and long-term future in mind.

“We have a strategy and a plan in place where we want to be viable and competitive for the long haul and the only way to do that is to scout well, develop well, put in a good strategy, have a good process and do deals that make sense,” Rizzo said.

While the Nationals paid what is widely-considered a high price for Eaton, Rizzo said he thought it balanced out and improved the lineup and also gave manager Dusty Baker a number of options on the roster.

He was asked if there was any concern about adding a left-handed bat to a lineup that already featured Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper.

“We like the fact that they're balanced hitters, all three of those left-handed hitters,” he explained. “I don't worry about any three -- either of those three hitters coming up and bringing a left-handed pitcher. Adam is almost completely balanced against lefties and righties. Murphy also. And Harp has been outstanding. Those are our big bats.

“We felt a need to get more balanced. We hit left-handed pitching very well last year and struggled a little bit against right-handed pitching.

“So we thought it was something that balanced us out and gave us more of an uptick against right-handed pitching and something that we felt was a need for us.”

It also gives the Nationals flexibility in terms of their defensive alignment.

“Positional flexibility is a good thing to have. We have it,” Rizzo said.

“We have several players that can play different positions successfully. Trea [Turner] has proven he can play shortstop, center field, second base effectively. Bryce has proved he can play center field, left and right, same thing with Adam Eaton. So we have a lot of flexibility and it allows us a lot of ways to put a lineup on the field.”

The Nationals still have needs on the bench and in the bullpen, with the back end of the ‘pen in particular a concern, though Rizzo and Baker have talked about having in-house options if they can’t find what they want through free agency or trade.

“Bullpens are fluid,” Rizzo said as potential closer targets landed elsewhere this winter.

“The composition of bullpens is fluid and often volatile. So, it’s not uncommon that you have different closers each and every year.

“If you’re not going to pay a long-term, guaranteed contract, often times you’re going to have volatility and bullpens are like that, it’s a very fluid portion of the club.”

With the options in terms of experienced, late-inning arms dwindling, Rizzo said that he was still comfortable the Nationals had the organizational depth to trade for late-inning arms if it came to that this winter.

“I think we do,” he said. “We have a really fertile minor league system that people have asked for throughout the winter so far.”

“We’re going to look at all different aspects of it,” he told reporters at Winterfest. Any moves, of course, will have the long and short-term in mind.

“Bullpen construction, roster construction. There are a lot of — especially in the bullpen market, there are a lot of different ways you can do it,” Rizzo said.

“We’ve got a lot of different ideas and a lot of different strategies to employ.

“We’re going to cast our net and acquire the best guy that fits for us.”

Will the Nationals find the bullpen arm they’ve been after? Having tried to sign some of the big-name free agents on the market, they clearly seem to think it’s a need.

Will they add to the bench in the next few weeks before Spring Training begins?

Are Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office done building the roster that will attempt to defend the NL East crown?