Mike Rizzo and Co. in Washington’s front office made an offer to Bryce Harper at the end of the 2018 campaign, but when the 26-year-old rejected it and opted to test free agency, the Nationals moved quickly to address the holes they felt they needed to fill.
“Clearly, we didn’t sit around. We went after the guys we thought could help us this year and we got those guys, and it was a lot of fun,” second-year skipper Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this Spring.
“This winter we had a lot of fun trying to put together rosters,” he continued, “and which guys were available, which guys we could possibly get, and coming into Spring Training and seeing the guys that we have, man, I’m super-excited.”
Patrick Corbin signed a 6-year/$140M deal. Veteran starter Aníbal Sánchez to a 2-year/$19M deal. Jeremy Hellickson returned on a 1-year/$1.3M contract. The Nationals added to the bullpen with right-handers Kyle Barraclough (acquired via trade from the Miami Marlins) and Trevor Rosenthal (1-year/$7M), solidified their catching corps by signing Kurt Suzuki (2-years/$10M) and trading for Yan Gomes, brought Matt Adams back to back up at first base (1-year/$4M), and signed veteran second baseman Brian Dozier to a 1-year/$9M deal.
In a slow market this winter, in which many teams were unwilling to spend big, Rizzo and Co. were active because they needed to be, after last year’s disappointing 82-80, second-place finish in the NL East.
“I think that there is — different teams are in different parts of their development plan,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier this week when asked about all the additions the Nationals did make.
“We’re here, we’re trying to win, we’re competitive people, ownership is competitive, I’m very competitive, and we want to win. We’ve shown for the last seven or eight years that we’re here to put together a product that the D.C. area can be proud of. We want players that the D.C. people can be proud of to call their own, and we’re always looking for the great player that’s good between the lines, and in the clubhouse, in the community, and like I’ve said many, many times, we like the fact that when you guys talk about a player, and when they read about them in the newspaper it’s about sports, and we couldn’t be more proud of that.
“But yeah, we’re here — they have to fit within your parameters, everyone’s got a budget, everybody’s got to pinch pennies, and look — our payroll is about $175 million this year.
“We’ve added a lot of free agents, we’ve made a couple of trades, we’ve turned over about almost 30-40% of the roster, but we had a lot of holes to fill, we lost a lot of guys in free agency and had to patch that thing together and put together a club that we could be proud of that can take back the National League East and play deep into the Fall.”
All the decisions are made with the bigger picture in mind, the GM reiterated throughout the interview.
“We always take into account — the makeup of the club is ultra-important to us,” Rizzo said.
“Obviously you have to have skill sets, and tools, and performance on the field, but when you can combine performance on the field and the ability to play really high-quality major league baseball, and good guys, and guys who have been there before, and guys who’ve won, and leadership qualities, and just kind of baseball rats, it’s a great combination to have. We always shoot for that first and foremost, and this year, I think we landed a handful of guys that are not only great players, but great guys in the clubhouse, community, on the field, it’s a joy to watch these guys get after it and the way they prepare, and they’re pros and it’s a good thing for the young players, because it rubs off, when your best players are your hardest workers, that’s what it’s all about.”
Dozier, who signed on in mid-January, taking a one-year deal after a down-year offensively in which he dealt with a knee injury, told reporters after agreeing to the deal that friends who have been through the organization and one who returned to it, all had good things to say about playing in Washington, which made the decision an easy one for him in spite of the fact that he had longer, more lucrative deals on the table before he chose the Nationals.
“A really close friend of my that I played with in Minnesota, Kurt Suzuki,” Dozier said, “having talks with him leading up to this, and like I said, I’m not a guy who chases the most money or chases the most years, all that kind of stuff. You really want to feel like everything kind of happens for a reason and you’re put in certain places to work and invest in the community and stuff.
“And talking with Kurt, talking a few times with another close friend of mine that played in Washington, Josh Willingham, how much they raved about it, not only within the organization, as far as how they treat families, the travel, all that kind of stuff, but outside in the community ... It just seemed like a really good fit.”
Rizzo told Grant and Danny that the feeling was mutual in terms of Dozier fitting what the Nationals needed at second base and in the clubhouse.
“We wanted two-way players, and Brian is a two-way player,” Rizzo said.
“You’ve got a guy that’s got great hands, he pivots the double play as good as anybody in the league, and has great range and a Gold Glove resume and a guy that we really think is going to be a bounce-back player for us. Played most of the season if not all of the season nicked up, he’s a guy that’s not going to come out of the lineup and he showed it last year when he played on a knee that was extremely bruised up and sore for most of the season.
“I think it affected his range. I think it affected him at the plate. We’re looking for him to bounce back and be Brian Dozier that he was his whole career except for the latter part of last year.”
The additions to the starting rotation were big too, after injuries hurt the staff last winter and exposed some of the lack of major league-ready depth in the organization.
After trading Tanner Roark, the Nationals signed Sanchez, then brought Hellickson back, adding to the back end of the rotation and giving Martinez some options should injuries strike, as they often do, with Joe Ross and Erick Fedde batting with Hellickson for the one spot that appears available this Spring.
“There is turbulence, and when you lose 40-60% of your rotation it’s tough for any team, I don’t care what type of depth you think you have,” Rizzo said, reflecting on 2018.
“When you lose some of your big starters for extended periods of time, one of them twice, it’s difficult to replicate the elite starting pitching that we’ve had in the past.
“You never have enough depth, you never have enough good arms, you never have enough good pitching, but we’re going to run out five guys that are going to give us a chance to win. We’re going to have several guys in the minor leagues that have big league experience and the ability to win at the big league level, and then behind them we’re going to have a group of young, up-and-coming guys that are going to be in the next wave of these starting pitchers, so we feel as good as anybody I think with your rotation.
“I don’t think there’s a General Manager out there who says, ‘I’m good. No problems here. No one is going to get hurt and we’re going to breeze through the season,’ but we’re extremely, extremely happy with where we’re at right now.”
Martinez said last week he was excited to get to West Palm Beach, FL and see all the players together in one place.
“I spent all winter in Washington with Mike and everybody,” Martinez explained, “and we addressed what we needed to address, the issues that we wanted to fix, and I feel really, really good going into Spring Training. Especially with the guys that we have right now. They look great.”