Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged last winter that once Bryce Harper got to the free agent market things changed. Before then, they had the exclusive right to try to negotiate an extension that would have kept the 2010 No. 1 overall pick in D.C., but when all 29 other major league teams (or at least those who could afford it) were able to bid it all had to go differently.
“Our thought process was this,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
“We wanted to keep him and so our strategy was we have exclusivity to negotiate with him until the first day of free agency and then he becomes a free agent to everybody.
“So we felt that our best way to not only try and lock him down but to then know what the landscape looks [like] going forward as far as the offseason, who we can go after and that type of thing, what our financials look like. Our best chance to do that was to try and sign him before the free agent deadline.
“So we talked to him a few times with ownership and myself right there — I spoke to him personally a couple times and at the last home game of the season we made him this proposal and this offer, to [him] and his agent, and we had to put an expiration date on it because we couldn’t let that linger on until March 2nd, when he signed, and try and get the rest of our business done.”
The same scenario, or something close to it, has played out over the last season (or more) with the Nationals’ 2011 1st Round pick, Anthony Rendon, who is now a free agent after he and Rizzo and Co. in the front office in Washington talked for an extended period of time about a long-term deal that would keep Rendon with the Nats, but failed to work one out before he hit the free agent market.
An expedited form of those conversations is going to start with the 2009 No. 1 overall pick as well, after Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years and $100M of his 7-year/$175M extension following a next-level season for the right-hander who ended the year accepting the World Series MVP trophy.
“We talked to Scott [Boras],” Rizzo told USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale this week, of his talks with the agent representing both Rendon and Strasburg.
“He knows what we think of them. The players know what we think of them. They both know that we’d like to bring them both back. If the numbers work, we want them both back. We want to be aggressive.
“But it’s just like [Bryce] Harper. It’s a two-way street. They earned the right to be free agents and look at other teams, but you can’t be held hostage by any player.’’
Will the first sign that talks with Rendon and Strasburg aren’t going to result in one or both of them returning to the Nationals be a deal with a top free agent that fills a perceived area of need, whether in the infield, rotation, or elsewhere on the roster?
If Rendon, who was reportedly offered something in the range of a 7-year/$210-$215M deal back in September, “takes too much time deciding whether he wants to return,” then Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office, “could turn to third basemen Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas,” Nightengale wrote.
And if Strasburg’s final decision drags on the Nationals, “could move on to the second-tier [pitching] market, knowing they’ll still have Max Scherzer and [Patrick] Corbin.”
The goal, Rizzo explained, as it is every season, is to field a 90-win team, and see how it all shakes out.
“A good year, win 95. A bad year, win 85 and try to make the playoffs. We’re going to try to make every effort to sign them, but we’ll see.’’
Rumors coming out of the GM Meetings have the Nationals continuing to talk with Rendon and Strasburg:
By staying under luxury threshold and thus lowering their tax rate (not to mention increasing their revenues with the World Series win), the Nats enhanced their chances to retain Stephen Strasburg snd Anthony Rendon. That’s the goal, they say (though it obviously won’t be easy)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 12, 2019
Rizzo told Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty on Tuesday that though they hadn’t met with Boras in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the GM Meetings are being held, they plan to, and, “we’ve got several meetings with several different agents about a bunch of different variety of players.”
While Rizzo was clear that they would like to bring both Rendon and Strasburg back, he did say that things haven’t progressed with either yet, telling the WaPost reporter, “we’ll have to see,” when asked if they could conceivably bring both back with the sort of salaries they are expected to command in free agency.
“It’s all about asset allocation, how things shake out. It’s something that we would love to do, and bring the band back together, but we have to be prudent how we construct this thing.”
Rizzo expects to meet with Scott Boras in Scottsdale this week to discuss both Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, who they did trade offers for throughout the season. Rizzo added that he and Boras have not spoken yet.— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) November 12, 2019
They also need to address second base (unless they plan to hand the position over to Carter Kieboom), find a catcher to share duties or back up Kurt Suzuki, and there’s first base to get settled, not to mention the bench, and the bullpen, and either the middle or the back of the starting rotation. Hope you enjoyed the World Series. It’s on to 2020 now...