After telling reporters that he was comfortable with the in-house options at second base early this offseason, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged when he spoke about the position at the 2018 Winter Meetings that he was open to the possibility of the Nats signing or acquiring an infielder who could play there in 2019 and bridge the gap to the next generation of infielders in the organization.
“If there was a definite everyday second baseman that we liked that we thought was an upgrade, we would certainly consider that,” Rizzo said in Las Vegas.
“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.”
Previously, the Nationals had insisted that they were comfortable with the mix of infielders like Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo and prospects Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia taking over the position Daniel Murphy handled in the past three seasons.
There were, however, rumors all along that the Nationals may have been exploring other options in an under-the-radar search for a second baseman.
DJ LeMahieu, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, and others were mentioned as infielders of interest to the Nationals this winter.
According to a report by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal on Friday morning, the Nationals tried to sign veteran Ian Kinsler before the 36-year-old, 13-year vet signed 2-year/$8M deal to join the San Diego Padres on December 20th.
“After losing Ian Kinsler — who rejected a one-year, $5 million offer from the Nats in favor of a two-year, $8 million contract with the Padres — the team is talking to another free agent, Brian Dozier,” Rosenthal wrote, noting that Washington’s preference is adding, “... a one-year stopgap as they await the arrival of Carter Kieboom.”
Dozier, who’ll turn 32 this May, played for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018, putting up a .215/.305/.391 line, 30 doubles, and 21 home runs in 151 games and 632 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.8 fWAR (down from 6.2 and 5.0 fWAR in the previous two seasons).
Kieboom, 21 years old, put up a .298/.386/.494 line, 15 doubles, and 11 home runs in 61 games and 285 plate appearances at High-A Potomac in 2018, then moved to Double-A Harrisburg where he posted a .262/.326/.395, with 16 doubles and five homers over 62 games and 273 PAs at Double-A Harrisburg in the Nationals’ system.
Rizzo was clear when he talked about Kieboom’s development at the Winter Meetings that the Nationals weren’t going to rush him up to the majors, though they did have him play at second base for the first time as a professional in the Arizona Fall League.
Will the Nationals add a second baseman on a one-year deal? MLBTraderumors.com did actually match the Nats and Dozier up earlier this winter, projecting he’d sign something like a 1-year/$10M contract in free agency after making $9M in 2018 in the final year of a 4-year/$20M extension he signed with the Twins in 2015.
Between 2014-17, the MLBTR writers noted, “... only Jose Altuve was more valuable than Dozier,” who, “... compiled nearly 19 WAR for the Twins, smacking 127 home runs in that span,” before he struggled in 2018, suggesting that a one-year deal somewhere that he would play could allow him to rebuild his value.
Will the Nationals and Dozier work something out? Will one of the other free agent second baseman end up in D.C.? Or will Rizzo and Co. in the front office in Washington work out a trade or stick with a mix of Kendrick (who is coming off an achilles injury) and Difo (who’s struggled offensively) as they wait for Kieboom to show he’s ready to make the jump?