Though they were obviously unhappy with the overall results in 2018, both GM Mike Rizzo and Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez ended the season talking about their core roster being capable of competing for a postseason berth in 2019 with a few tweaks and additions.
“Our goal is to always strive to get better,” Rizzo told reporters. “We feel really good about the organization as a whole, we like the core group of players that we have under control, on the roster.
“We like the group of talented players in the minor leagues, we like the process that we go through to make decisions and get things done. So I consider this year an anomaly.
“I think that we’re going to reboot next year, make some adjustments and compete for the National League East again.”
Martinez said it’s always tough to have players move on, but it’s part of the game you have to get used to.
“You build relationships with all these guys, and it’s tough when you don’t see them back and they move on, but it’s part of it,” the first-year skipper explained.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s part of it, and hopefully the next group of guys we get are up for the challenge and then we move on.”
The Nationals will need to bolster their starting rotation, find a catcher, acquire a second baseman, and add to the bullpen mix this winter, and they started with that last part on Wednesday when they traded international slot value to the Miami Marlins for reliever Kyle Barraclough, who’s under control for three more seasons and is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter after earning $1.113M in 2018.
Barraclough joins a group of relievers that includes closer Sean Doolittle, Wander Suero, Koda Glover, Matt Grace, Justin Miller, Jimmy Cordero, Trevor Gott, Kyle McGowin, and Sammy Solis.
Will Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office consider bringing back Kelvin Herrera, whose 2018 campaign ended with a torn ligament in his foot, or Greg Holland, who finished strong after he signed with the Nationals on August 7th?
Herrera finished the season with a 2.44 ERA, a 3.95 FIP, 10 walks (2.03 BB/9), and 38 Ks (7.71 K/9) in 48 games and 44 1⁄3 IP.
Holland put up a 0.84 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, 10 walks, and 25 Ks in 21 1⁄3 IP with Washington after struggling in St. Louis, putting up a 7.92 ERA, a 4.56 FIP, 22 walks, and 22 Ks in 25 IP for the Cardinals before they released the veteran reliever on August 1st.
Are either or those two worth bringing back to D.C. in 2019? How about lefty Tim Collins?
How about rotation additions?
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Joe Ross (who’ll be on an innings limit in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery) figure to be in the 2019 rotation, with Erick Fedde and Jefry Rodriguez options for the fifth spot, but with Gio Gonzalez traded to Milwaukee and Jeremy Hellickson headed for free agency, the Nationals will need a starter or two this winter (and likely 3-4-types, at least one preferably a lefty), though they do have some in-house options in the organization if they decide to give Austin Voth, Kyle McGowin, or another of their top prospects (Wil Crowe?) a look at some point.
And how about second base?
Before Daniel Murphy returned from offseason surgery, and after the trade that sent Murphy to the Chicago Cubs, Wilmer Difo saw significant time at second base, but did he convince the Nationals he’s ready to take over the position on an everyday basis in 2019? Not really.
Difo finished the season at .230/.298/.350, with 14 doubles, seven triples, and seven home runs, and seems more suited to the utility role he’s filled during his time in the majors, so if Rizzo is going to be in the market for a new second baseman, where will he turn?
Brian Dozier? DJ LeMahieu? A reunion with Murphy (who was serviceable at second after he returned, but might be better off in the AL at this point in his career)? Any other free agents or trade targets on your radar that should be on the Nationals’ wish list?
In the immediate aftermath of the Murphy trade, Rizzo was asked if the top infield prospect in the organization, Carter Kieboom, might be the answer at second, though he’s played at short exclusively in the minors thus far.
“Carter has never played second base in his professional career,” Rizzo said at the time, “so it would be unfair for me to throw him there at the big league level.
“He’s progressed beautifully for where he’s at. He’s going to be in the Arizona Fall League as one of our premier players in the Fall League, so he’s had a lot on his plate, he’s had a terrific career with us as short as it has been, but his needle is facing north and we don’t want to sidetrack that.”
Will we see Kieboom try out second base in the AFL or during Spring Training to give him a chance to get used to another position if a need arises?
Either way, he’s probably not going to be the first option at second for 2019, so the Nats will likely be in the market for a second baseman this winter.
They’ll also be looking for a catcher, with Matt Wieters headed for free agency as well after two seasons in D.C.
“Wieters is a free agent,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last month, when they suggested a new No. 1 backstop would be high on the offseason wish list.
“We’ve got our two young kids in [Pedro] Severino and [Spencer] Kieboom, who —Kieboom has had a nice year as a backup catcher for us this year, but I agree that a frontline catcher is a guy that we should target and go after, because it’s a huge position defensively, first of all, it’s a guy who controls a game, and I think you saw when Wieters went down, the way the pitchers threw to the catchers was as important as any type of offense you’re getting from the catcher’s position.
“To me the best catchers in the game handle the pitching staff, they’re pseudo-pitching coaches on the field, they’re guys that call a game, prepare for the game, and then offense is kind of the cherry on top of the sundae, so it’s a position of need, it’s a position that we’re going to have to target and go after next year, and I think it’s something that’s going to really help the ballclub if we land one of those guys.”
So relief help? A 3-4 starter? A second baseman? A catcher? That’s it? Not really. They’re probably going to need a new bench bat or two and a backup first baseman in the roles Mark Reynolds and Matt Adams filled. It’s going to be a big winter for Rizzo and Co. to build the roster back up if they’re going to compete in a division that figures to be competitive again unless the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies take a big step back in 2019. Who are your targets at the Nationals’ positions of need?
Oh, and the Nationals also have to decide what to do with Bryce Harper. If they do, will they trade from their outfield depth, potentially dealing either Michael A. Taylor or Adam Eaton?