General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters at the end of the 2018 campaign that he viewed the Washington Nationals’ disappointing season (82-80, 2nd place in the NL East) as an anomaly, and he said that he believed the Nats would compete for the NL East crown in 2019.
“Our goal is to always strive to get better,” Rizzo explained in late September.
“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 National League East again.”
Bringing Davey Martinez’s entire coaching staff back for another season was a sign it wasn’t just Rizzo saying the convenient thing as the season wrapped up.
The Nationals’ first few moves of the offseason have addressed the obvious needs in the bullpen brought about by the departures of Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, and Shawn Kelley last season.
Kyle Barraclough, who was impressive in the first half of 2018 in Miami (1.28 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 4.89 BB/9, 9.99 K/9, .124/.254/.217 line against in 42 1⁄3 IP), then struggled in 17 1⁄3 IP in the second-half (13.50 ERA, 9.24 FIP, 7.43 BB/9, 8.78 K/9, .361/.486/.667), was acquired early in October in exchange for international slot value.
Sean Doolittle, who missed time with a stress reaction in his foot, but put up a 1.45 ERA, 1.98 FIP, three walks (0.72 K/9), 49 Ks, (11.81 K/9), and a .134/.167/.220 line against in 37 1⁄3 IP when he was healthy last season, had his $6M club option for 2019 exercised.
According to multiple reports, the Nationals and veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal have a 1-year/$7M in the works that could pay the one-time St. Louis Cardinals’ closer close to $28-$30M in the next two seasons if he reaches the performance and appearance bonuses included in the deal.
With Matt Grace and Sammy Solis the only left-handers currently on the 40-Man Roster, and Solis coming off a rough season in 2018, the Nationals could still try to land a reliable lefty in the coming weeks, and add depth to the bullpen to go along with Koda Glover, Justin Miller, Wander Suero, Jimmy Cordero, Austen Williams, and others.
They still have to address their need at second base unless they’re planning to stick with a mix of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick (assuming he returns from a season-ending achilles injury), they still need a No. 1 catcher (assuming they are comfortable with either Spencer Kieboom or Pedro Severino backing up behind the plate), they still have to figure out if they will have Bryce Harper back, they need to add to the bench, with a backup first baseman a priority given Ryan Zimmerman’s injury issues, and they need rotation depth (and preferably a lefty) behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Tanner Roark (with righties Joe Ross, Jefry Rodriguez, Erick Fedde, and others likely competing for spots in Spring Training).
Do the Nationals need to get the Harper situation sorted out before they move forward, or does the fact that they have the outfielders (Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor) they need should he sign elsewhere allow Washington to wait for the situation to play out so they can see if they’re willing to match or surpass what other suitors are willing to offer?
Fancred’s Jon Heyman predicted that Harper will get something in the 11-year/$330M range this winter. Heyman’s guess comes a week after Bruce Levine of 670 the Score in Chicago’s prediction of a 10-year/$350M deal. Is that the starting point or an end point for Harper this winter?
Will Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office try to sign or trade for the pitching they need?
Will they add a legitimate No. 3 starter, or build up depth in 4-5-types?
Which of the roster needs is the most pressing to address? Starter? A second baseman? Catcher? Backup first baseman? Where do you expect the Nationals to turn next?