Having already added nine players to the mix via free agency and trade this winter, GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies earlier this week that as usual he’ll never say never when it comes to potential roster additions. He was responding to a question about a rumor or two of interest on Washington’s part in free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel.
“You know how we do it,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “We’re never finished, we’re always trying, we’re always talking to people and that type of thing, and sometimes people talk about — when you go out and reach out and talk about a player — we’ve spoken to several free agents, including him.”
With a bullpen mix that includes Sean Doolittle as closer, former St. Louis Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal as a set-up man, and Kyle Barraclough expected to be in the back of the bullpen on Opening Day, the Nationals and manager Davey Martinez have options, but the three relievers also have injury histories, with Doolittle coming off foot injury, Rosenthal on the way back from Tommy John, and Barraclough trying to bounce back from what was an up and down 2018 in Miami in which he dealt with lower back issues.
In an MLB Network Radio interview this week, Rizzo said he likes the arms assembled over the winter to bolster the depth on the roster.
“I like the way on paper that we map out with Barraclough, Rosie, and Doolittle,” Rizzo said, “but with those three we have to be cautious, with Rosenthal coming off Tommy John, he’s thrown extremely well here [in Spring Training], he feels great, but we’re going to have to control his appearances and innings, and Doo is a guy that we always liked to control. His arm felt great last year, knock on wood, and he had the foot injury, but he’s throwing extremely well.
“We like our bullpen. You never have enough depth in that bullpen. Especially, you see now, we have two of our relievers [Justin Miller and Koda Glover] that we were counting on going into the season, they’re nicked up, we think they’ll be okay, but you never know, and that’s the secret. I’ve learned over these years, it takes a village. This isn’t a 25 or 27-man roster anymore.”
“Last year, I think we had 48 players that were in the big leagues for us, so it takes the whole 40-man roster-plus, and I think that’s why here we rely so much on scouting and player development, because we’re running players into this roster, onto the 25-man roster each and every year that come from our scouting and player-development staff and that’s a testament to their work.”
Adding a reliever like Kimbrel to the mix, however, at the price he’s expected to command, (something like 4 years/$60-$80M?), would have repercussions for the Nationals, after the organization went over the luxury tax threshold in each of the last two seasons.
Citing Rosterresource.com’s estimate of a $201.47M luxury tax payroll for the Nationals, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote last week that any deal for Kimbrel would put the team over MLB’s luxury tax threshold ($206M) for the third straight season, “... requiring them to pay a 50 percent penalty for every dollar they spend up to $226 million, and even more if they go higher.”
Kimbrel received a qualifying offer from the Boston Red Sox before becoming a free agent, so the Nationals would lose their 3rd and 6th Round picks in this June’s Draft after already having given up their 2nd and 5th Round picks (and $1M in International draft space) when they signed Patrick Corbin, (who received a qualifying offer from the Arizona D-backs), to a 6-year/$140M deal back in December. They did, however, receive a post-4th Round pick as compensation for Bryce Harper signing in Philadelphia.
So with all that in mind, Rizzo was asked in the MLB Network Radio interview, is Kimbrel an actual possibility?
“I don’t like to talk about any individual player that we’re interested in, but we all have our marching orders from above,” Rizzo said, “... and we’re a team that’s been over the tax revenue limit the last two seasons, a third season would cost us more in taxation. It would also cost us draft picks and international signing money, and those are all the lifeblood of an organization, and I think that you always have to balance between the risk and reward in the short-term but also in the long-term. We don’t only have a 2019 plan, on my board in my office we have a 1, 3 and a 5-year plan, and we kind of have an idea of who is going to be on our roster five years from now, and so all those things have to be taken into account when you’re planning a strategy for making these signings.”