With their new manager, Dave Martinez, signed up, new hitting coach, Daniel Murphy-whisperer Kevin Long, the first member of the new skipper’s staff, and the third base coach, Bob Henley, coming back, the top team in the NL East in each of the last two seasons is on the way to building their coaching staff and roster for 2018.
There are plenty of moves to come, of course, but GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this morning that he’s happy with the way things have gone so far this offseason after the Washington Nationals won their fourth division title in the last six seasons but lost in the NLDS for the fourth straight time.
“It’s been extremely busy,” Rizzo told the Junkies today, “but extremely beneficial and successful and I think we’re going in the right direction with a new manager.
“We’re working on a new coaching staff, and I think things are looking very positive for us.”
So what parts of the roster will the Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office focus on improving this winter as they try to set themselves up for a third straight NL East crown?
THE NATIONALS’ BULLPEN:
Of the major league-high twelve players who became free agents this past Monday afternoon, four of them were relievers (Matt Albers, Joe Blanton, Oliver Perez, and Brandon Kintzler), so the Nationals’ bullpen will obviously be a focus again this time around after the Nats tried to bolster their bullpen last winter, failed to land a high-end closer, and went into the season searching among their in-house options for a ninth-inning arm.
When a number of options were tested and failed in the role, and the bullpen was still an issue in July, Rizzo traded first for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, then added yet another arm in a deal for Kintzler. Doolittle, under control through 2019, and Madson, signed for 2018, will be back in D.C.
Will the Nationals attempt to bring Kintzler back to keep their three-headed bullpen monster intact? MLB Trade Rumors, in their 2017-18 free agent predictions, had the 33-year-old, sinker-balling right-hander returning to Washington on a 2-year/$14M deal... which seems reasonable-ish, considering the 3-year/$15M deal the Nationals gave to Shawn Kelley just a few seasons back.
With the departures mentioned above, and some injury concerns with Kelley and one of the relievers who was closer for a time, Koda Glover, the Nats will likely be back in the relief market this winter.
“We’re going to be active in the bullpen market again,” Rizzo told the Sports Junkies.
“Fortunately this year, we’ve got some solidified, qualified starters 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.”
[ed. note - “We’re personally excited to see if Wander Suero can take the next step after he was added to the 40-Man roster this past weekend.”]
THE NATIONALS’ BENCH:
Stephen Drew, Adam Lind, Howie Kendrick, Alejandro De Aza, and backup catcher Jose Lobaton all became free agents earlier this week, so the Nationals’ bench is obviously another area in need of attention this offseason.
Lind, 34, had a mutual option for 2018 in his 1-year/$1.5M contract that would have paid him $5M this season after he put up an impressive .303/.362/.513 line with 14 doubles and 14 home runs in 116 games and 301 PAs, over which he produced 122 wRC+, finishing up the 2017 campaign at 0.9 fWAR.
He also put up a .356/.396/.644 line with four pinch hit home runs (tied for the MLB lead in PH/HRs), so it’s not too surprising that he decided to test the market.
“It was a mutual option and both sides declined it,” Rizzo said today, while noting that it doesn’t necessarily mean the Nationals can’t bring the left-handed bench bat and OF/1B back to D.C. in 2018.
“Sure, you could sign him to any deal — a lesser deal, a bigger deal, whatever. That was just a mutual option that is almost always declined by both sides, and that’s how it was in this one,” Rizzo explained.
“Adam was a huge part of our bench this year and had a terrific year for himself, and a guy that, coming off a struggling season in Seattle, really came through and really put a great value on his performance this year.
“We were proud to have him with the organization, and we’re in discussions with him and a lot of other people.”
Kendrick would make sense too. The Nationals need to make a decision on a backup catcher as well. The bench, like the bullpen, will be an area for the Nats to focus on again, as it is every offseason.
THE NATIONALS’ ROTATION:
Rizzo and Co. have, of course, strengthened a strength before, adding Doug Fister to an already-impressive rotation via trade in 2013/14 and Max Scherzer via a sort-of-out-of-nowhere blockbuster 7-year/$210M free agent deal before the start of the ‘15 season, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Nationals decided to add to the arms they have lined up for 2018: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark.
MLBTR’s free agent predictions mention the Nats as a team that could have some level of interest in some of the big-name arms on a relatively weak pitching market like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.
Rizzo said today that he wouldn’t rule out pursuing a starter.
“This early in free agency — you know, you never have enough starting pitching,” Rizzo explained. “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,” he added.
“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.”
With Anthony Rendon at third, Trea Turner at short, Daniel Murphy (who might miss time at the start after knee surgery) at second, and Ryan Zimmerman at first base, and Matt Wieters, who exercised a $10.5M player option behind the plate the Nationals’ infield is pretty much set (barring the addition of a backstop if the Nats don’t think Wieters is still a No. 1 catcher, or Pedro Severino or Raudy Read isn’t read-y to back up), and with a hopefully fully-recovered Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, and Bryce Harper left-to-right (we’re guessing) in the outfield, and a number of backup outfielders in the organization, this is one area in which the Nationals seem pretty much set.
Jayson Werth’s contract is off the books. Will he be back? Kendrick? Rizzo said today that he was comfortable and happy with the outfield depth.
“We’ve got a lot of different ways we can do it,” he explained.
“Outfield depth is probably our deepest position when you talk about Eaton and Taylor and Harper and [Brian] Goodwin and [Andrew] Stevenson and [Victor] Robles and [Rafael] Bautista and that group of guys. Outfield-wise we are really, really fortified with both depth and extreme upside.
“You talk about Victor Robles, one of the most exciting players in the league, has a chance to be a really good player, and Eaton and Harper are huge, big-time WAR players that are big leaguers and left-handed batters. Michael Taylor is a finalist for a Gold Glove finalist in center field. These guys have all really come on and improved and really put themselves on the map as far as our young players this year and we’re very, very fortunate and really excited about the crop of outfielders that we have.”
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE GM:
“Early on in this offseason, it’s hard to see what direction we’re gonna go in, but we have a plan put in place. We’re just in the beginning portion of going over 2017, our autopsy for ’17. See what went right, what went wrong, what depth we have in the minors and where we’re going and we’re gonna put a battle plan together and meet with ownership, let them know what we’re gonna do and try and make this team better than it already is, and it’s pretty damn good right now.”