Getting off to a fast start in terms of roster building this winter, (with the additions of Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal to the bullpen, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes behind the plate, and Patrick Corbin to the starting rotation), allowed the Washington Nationals to see what the Winter Meetings had to offer without the urgency which sometimes accompanies the yearly gathering.
“We were aggressive early on because I think the players that were available at the time fit really well for us,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained on the first day in Las Vegas this past Monday.
“We checked off a lot of the things that we were looking for early, and I’m not saying that we’re going to wait for the market to come to us, because we hate to react to the market.
“We’re going to be proactive and look for opportunities and see if we can better ourselves.”
Davey Martinez, who’s returning for a second season on the bench after a disappointing 82-80 finish in his first year as the Nationals’ manager, said he was excited about the moves he has seen the front office make.
“Mike and the staff and the ownership has actually given me a pretty good Christmas so far,” Martinez joked.
“As of right now we’re in great shape. We really are. I know Mike is going to do his best to keep improving our team.”
Going into the Winter Meetings, and into negotiations with rival GMs, players, and agents, Rizzo explained, the Nationals have parameters of what they’re looking for, what they are willing to offer, and where the values are that they can take advantage of as they look for what they need.
Talking about the starting rotation in particular, Rizzo said, “there are a lot of quality pitchers that are available via the trade market or even the free agent market, so we’ll put a value on them and if there’s something we think that can help us, we’ll certainly be open to any kind of additions.”
The Nationals’ needs in the rotation changed once they dealt Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.
Before that deal went through, Rizzo told reporters that there was already a need for depth in the organization, and it was something that would have to be addressed if the rumors of interest in Roark resulted in a trade.
“I think that we would certainly want to reinforce our rotation,” he said. “We’re always talking about depth, and to eliminate a pitcher like Roark, we would certainly like to strengthen that strength if we were to make a deal for him.”
Where will the Nationals turn for starting depth now that Roark has been dealt? Is there a trade out there somewhere? Free agents options?
Rizzo was asked about potential interest in Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.
“We’ve monitored him, we’ve scouted him, and we’ve done our due diligence on him and he’s another one on the starting pitching market that we’ll monitor,” the GM said.
MASN’s Mark Zuckerman wrote on Friday that the Nationals, according to a source, have an interest in free agent lefty Dallas Keuchel, though, “... they’re leery of giving him the five- or six-year deal he seeks, according to a source familiar with their thinking.”
Joe Ross, who is expected to fight for a rotation spot along with Erick Fedde and others in the organization, will be on some sort of as-yet-unspecified innings limit, but he could play a big role going forward.
“Our expectations are that he gets back to pre-Tommy John form,” Rizzo said, “and that was a pretty good starting pitcher, so that’s what we’re hoping for and our expectation is that he’s going to battle for a rotation spot, take it, and win the job and be the Joe Ross we saw pre-injury.”
Second base still has to be addressed, and while the Nationals have talked this winter about their comfort-level with the in-house options, the tone of the conversation changed in Las Vegas, with Rizzo and Co. talking more openly about finding other options, and potentially a player who could back up at first and play some second.
“If there was a definite everyday second baseman that we liked that we thought was an upgrade, we would certainly consider that,” Rizzo explained.
“If it was more of a kind of a hybrid role, we would consider that. We’ve left ourselves open to a lot of different types of options, a lot of different ways to build the bench and the back of the roster.”
As for that bench and the back of the roster?
“We have a few things we can do with the periphery of the roster,” Rizzo said on Wednesday afternoon, before the Winter Meetings wrapped up with the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, “and I think one move corresponds with another, and we’re always trying to get better defensively.
“We’re trying to get depth and give Davey options when it comes to the back end of the games.”
There’s also that Bryce Harper guy to consider. He didn’t find a new home, or make a big show of an announcement out in Las Vegas, but he was the talk of his hometown with his agent, Scott Boras, spending a good portion of his time talking to reporters in his yearly presser discussing his 26-year-old client.
Where did the Nationals stand on Harper at the end of the Meetings?
Did Rizzo reach out to Boras or Harper to discuss Managing Principal Owner Mark Lerner’s comments about how he thought the 2010 No. 1 overall pick had moved on and would not return to the nation’s capital?
“I can only speak for myself,” Rizzo said. “I haven’t reached out to him about anything due to Mark’s interview, no.”
Did he follow up with them to say that the door isn’t closed on a Harper return?
“I have not, no.”
Do Boras and Harper know where Rizzo and Co. stand?
“I think that we have the relationship with both parties that I don’t think we need to check in with them after every rumor.
Any further plans to meet with Harper?
“No, no plans to meet with Bryce, we know Bryce better than anybody in this building.”