Over at The Athletic, (subscription required), Ken Rosenthal wrote about the relative lack of action from the Washington Nationals this winter, speculating on why the defending NL East champs haven’t started spending on free agents yet. Rosenthal’s thinking?
The Nationals, he writes, “face luxury tax issues,” and they, “... currently project to be within $4 million of the first threshold,” so the Nats are taking a cautious approach, especially with some of the numbers out there for the free agent relievers who have signed already.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo, on Monday, addressed the Nationals’ ability to spend this winter, after going over the luxury tax threshold for the first time last season, explaining that the front office is not being limited in what they can spend, though they will, as usual, be looking for “prudent” deals.
“There is no hindrance of us improving the club any way we think possible,” Rizzo told reporters.
“Obviously we’re going to be prudent about how we spend and who we spend it on, but we’ve never had a mandate to stay within a certain number and we don’t going into this season.”
Cot’s Baseball Contracts and Baseball-reference.com both estimate that the Nationals’ payroll commitments currently sit around $170M, though Cot’s notes that, “... deferred payments and performance or award bonuses are not included.”
While Rosenthal notes that the Nationals are looking at relievers (he mentions both Juan Nicasio and Brandon Kintzler), with set-up men like Pat Neshek signing for close to $8-9M per season, the Nats, he writes don’t seem “particularly motivated to move” just yet.
“We’re going to look for the best value that we can get,” Rizzo said on Monday when he was asked about the relief market.
“We’ll identify guys that we like and if we can get a value we think that he fits for our club, we’ll jump on it.”
Rizzo talked about the available relief options again on Tuesday night, when he met with reporters again at the Winter Meetings.
“The relief market — I think it’s a robust market, there [are] a lot of good relievers out there,” he explained.
“So we’re gauging that market, the free agent market and the trade market for them.”
Rosenthal also wrote that in spite of public statements from Rizzo about his comfort-level of the Nationals’ catching corps, they could be looking to add a catcher who can share time behind the plate with Matt Wieters.
Rizzo said he considers Wieters a potential bounce-back candidate in 2018, and likes the depth in the organization with both Pedro Severino and Raudy Read behind the veteran backstop.
“We’re cool with Severino. We like Severino. We think Wieters is going to be a bounce-back candidate this year. He caught a lot of games for us last year, we’d like to curtail that a little bit. We love the upside of Severino, and fortunately in our organization we have a lot of depth catcher-wise.”
Rosenthal writes that the Nats are considering acquiring a backup catcher, and he mentions Alex Avila, in particular.
Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes too, has subsequently written on Twitter about rumored interest in Avila on the Nationals’ part:
Though they like Pedro Severino, Nats do have interest in signing a more proven backup catcher. Alex Avila has come up in their discussions. @Ken_Rosenthal mentioned that possibility first.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) December 13, 2017
Avila, who turns 31 years old next month, put up a .264/.387/.447 line with 13 doubles and 14 home runs in 112 games and 376 plate appearances for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs, over which he produced 124 wRC+ and was worth 2.5 fWAR.
Would Avila consider sharing time with Wieters, since the Nationals want to dial back Wieters’ playing time this season?:
Free Agent Alex Avila is open to being a backup catcher on a winning team pic.twitter.com/Wp5jq6Jjnb— MLB Network Radio Sirius 209, XM 89 (@MLBNetworkRadio) November 29, 2017
Rosenthal also mentions the Nationals’ rumored interest in Jake Arrieta, which was reported by several sources on Tuesday.
Having written previously that he thinks Arrieta makes sense for the Nats, Rosenthal says, as he did with Wieters last winter, that he’ll continue to think the righty will end up in D.C. until he signs somewhere else.
Rizzo addressed the rumors about Arrieta last night.
“We’re just in the information-gathering stage right now,” he said. “He’s a great pitcher, but we’re nowhere close to doing anything.”