Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo and Co. in Washington’s front office made a trade for catcher Derek Norris this winter to address their needs behind the plate, sending right-handed prospect Pedro Avila to the San Diego Padres.
Five days after that deal, the Nats traded top prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 1st Round pick Dane Dunning to the Chicago White Sox in return for veteran center fielder Adam Eaton in a much-maligned 3-for-1 deal.
Rizzo was asked this winter if trading prospects in each of those moves, and acquiring relatively affordable players in Norris and Eaton, set the Nationals up to make a bigger investment this offseason or in the future.
“The decisions aren't made in a vacuum,” Rizzo explained. “We certainly have our plans for 2017 and beyond. Again, it gives us flexibility both positionally -- flexibility payroll-wise — and it allows us to do -- puts us in a position to do a lot of things.”
Asked if the Nationals could add significant payroll this offseason, Rizzo told reporters, “We've said from the beginning we have the flexibility financially to do something.”
The Nationals, however, as FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal wrote this morning, in an offseason in which, “... [u]rgency is warranted, and the free-agent market has been a buyer’s market all off-season, full of opportunity,” have, “barely have stirred, proving far less resourceful than say, the low-revenue Indians, far less aggressive than big-spending NL rivals such as the Dodgers and Mets.”
Rosenthal, citing reports from “those who work for Rizzo”, says they, “repeatedly have expressed frustration that the GM –- whose trading record is among the game’s best –- must fight ownership to get the players he wants.”
“He has the hardest job in baseball,” one Nationals official says, “with what he has to go through to get things done.”
As of now, the Nationals have added Norris, Eaton, Stephen Drew (on a 1-year/$3.5M deal) and Chris Heisey (on a 1-year/$1.4M deal).
The Nationals have mentioned the ongoing dispute with MASN affecting spending and their ability to make competitive offers over the last few seasons, but they also have the second-wealthiest owner in baseball, Rosenthal writes, so the financial limitations, “even with the Orioles withholding money, at least some of which the Nats eventually will receive,” should not keep Washington’s ownership from spending, “[a]nd now would be the time.”
The one need they’ve continually attempted to address is at the back of the bullpen, Rosenthal notes, and they did try, falling short in their pursuit of relievers like Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland and others.
“The Nats reportedly bid more than $50 million for Melancon, who went to the Giants for $62 over four years, and offered Jansen more than the Dodgers, who kept him for $80 million over five years.”
While the Nationals have tried to bolster the relief corps, as of now, the only additions to the bullpen have come on minor league deals for relievers Joe Nathan, Matt Albers, Tim Collins, Vance Worley and Neal Cotts.
They are still trying according to Rosenthal.
The Nationals, “... continue to discuss a trade with the White Sox for closer David Robertson, according to major-league sources,” Rosenthal reports, but the veteran reliever is owed $25M over the next two seasons, and the Nats don’t, “want to absorb Robertson’s entire obligation,” and don’t, “want to move additional prospects after parting with three young pitchers for Eaton, sources say.”
Those limitations could make any deal difficult. But the bullpen isn’t the only issue.
There are questions about roster depth and some injury concerns in the rotation as well. Will the Nationals add to the bench? Will they acquire bullpen help? With just days to go before pitchers and catchers report for the start of Spring Training, can Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office find a way to address those needs?