Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked before the General Managers’ Meetings last week, in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, about the needs for the organization heading into the Hot Stove season.
With a few members of the 2017 bench now free agents (Stephen Drew, Adam Lind, Jose Lobaton, and Howie Kendrick), it will likely have to be rebuilt to some extent.
Outfield-wise, Rizzo said, the Nationals are, “really, really fortified with both depth and extreme upside,” with Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, and Bryce Harper left-to-right in the starting lineup, and depth with Brian Goodwin, Rafael Bautista, Victor Robles, and more in the system.
Though second baseman Daniel Murphy’s knee injury/surgery could delay the start of his 2018 campaign, the starting infield is pretty much set.
Matt Wieters exercised his $10.5M player option for 2018, so he’ll be back behind the plate, though the Nats could look to add depth if they are not comfortable with their prospects like Pedro Severino or Raudy Read backing up/sharing time with Wieters.
As for pitching? Rizzo said that starting and bullpen depth could be a focus for the NL East’s top team in each of the last two seasons.
“You never have enough starting pitching,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “You’ve heard me say that many, many times.”
“We’ve got four extremely good starting pitchers on the roster now, in Max, and Stras, and Gio, and Tanner,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got some good young arms that really pitched well for us last year, in A.J. Cole — his last six starts were great. Erick Fedde, he’s going to be healthy and have his second year with us next year. And then we go to the minor leagues and we’ve got depth there.
“We’re going seven or eight deep, which is what you need in the big leagues. But you never have enough starting pitching, and if opportunities arise that we see as a value, we’ll jump on it aggressively like we always do.”
As for the relief corps?
“We’re going to be active in the bullpen market again,” Rizzo acknowledged.
“Fortunately this year, we’ve got some solidified, qualified [relievers] at the back end of games with Sean [Doolittle] and Ryan Madson.
“Left-handed relievers — we really like our stable of lefties with [Sammy] Solis, and [Matt] Grace, and Enny Romero and that group of guys, so we feel good about that.
“The bullpen is something that we’re gonna really keep our eye on, and do our due diligence on and see if we can bolster that beyond what it is already.”
Rizzo elaborated on some of this when he spoke at the GM Meetings in Orlando, FL.
While he said that he didn’t see pursuing a front-line starter, Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes, that he did, “... foresee going after some depth in the starting rotation.”
“I do foresee going after some depth in the bullpen and some strategic bench pieces that could fit what we’re trying to do,” he added.
As it stands now, Rizzo explained, in terms of the starting depth, “... we go six, seven deep. I’d like to go eight, nine, 10 deep.”
While he said he was “comfortable” with the left-handed depth with Solis, Grace, and Romero, Rizzo said a right-handed reliever, “is something we would consider, more so than a left-handed reliever.”
Bringing back Brandon Kintzler would seem like an easy solution to that need, though the 33-year-old, eight-year veteran acquired from the Minnesota Twins last July is said to be drawing interest by teams in the market for a closer.
Kintzler worked mostly in the seventh inning with the Nationals, as part of their three-headed bullpen monster with Madson (in the eighth) and Doolittle (closing).
Will Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office be able to find a similar right-handed pitcher this winter?
If Shawn Kelley or Koda Glover can come back healthy from their respective injuries, one or both could bolster the right-hand depth in the ‘pen after dealing with injury issues throughout the 2017 season, but as the WaPost’s reporter noted, paraphrasing Rizzo’s thoughts in another article from the GM’s Meetings, “... the Nationals cannot rely on Kelley or Glover, whose seasons ended with significant arm trouble.”
“‘[We will look for right-handed relievers] because of the uncertainty of Kelley and Glover. We think they’re going to be healthy but we really don’t know,’ Rizzo said.
Bench depth. Starting depth. Bullpen depth. Catching depth? Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office have their work cut out for them this winter.