Their top priority this offseason, Washington Nationals’ GM & President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo was clear last week, when he spoke with reporters, is adding a middle of the order bat to the lineup as the club tries, “... make offensive production a little bit more of a priority this offseason.”
With three strong starters coming back (assuming Stephen Strasburg is healthy after having surgery on his right hand/wrist last summer) and a bullpen that Rizzo said, “is built with a lot of depth and versatility,” the club appears to have the pitching they want, though a 4th/5th starter-type might make sense. They still need some catching help, and they need to fill the holes currently existing at first base and in a corner outfield spot going forward, but coming off MLB’s 60-game 2020 campaign, has ownership in D.C. talked to the Nationals’ GM about what sort of budget he’s working with as he assembles the roster for 2021 (and beyond)?
“The revenue issues, the budget issues, those are all very, very fluid,” Rizzo said. “Things are changing weekly if not daily as far as how we’re going to handle that.
“Ownership has given me marching orders to put a championship-caliber club on the field.
“That’s my purpose, that’s my focus, and that’s our objective this offseason.”
With talk of the budget being “fluid”, does that prevent the club from going after a big bat at this point in the offseason, or do they have to wait a while for the market to get moving?
If they wait for a middle-of-the-order bat-type, which is likely to be expensive (either on the free agent market or in terms of the prospect return in a trade) could that hamper the club’s attempts to address other needs?
“Did I use the word fluid? If I did I didn’t want to use that word ‘fluid’,” Rizzo told the reporter who asked that question while referencing the GM’s previous response.
“With conversations with ownership,” he explained, “we feel that we have the budget to get a championship-caliber club is what I meant to say if I didn’t say that.
“We have a process here. We do things a little bit differently. We place a value on players — be it on the trade market or free agent market — and we go after and attack said player and if it’s a deal that works for both parties we make it, and if it doesn’t we move on to Plan B.”
As of now, he continued, they’ve talked to a lot of other clubs, assessed where they stand at this point, and going forward they’ll see what comes of those discussions as things play out this winter.
“We’ve been having a lot of conversations with a lot of different teams, I think this year in this kind of strange — I’m not going to call it even a Winter Meeting dynamic — we’ve spoken to probably — and got the temperature of more teams than we do usually in the past,” Rizzo said.
“We’ve talked to a lot of teams [about] what their needs are, what their wants are, and in retrospect they’ve done the same thing to us.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of teams about what they’re trying to do, what direction they’re going to, we’ve been called upon in a lot of those conversations.
“We’ve talked to a lot of free agent candidates and we think that we’re mapping together a strategy to try and check off the different needs that we have on this club.”
In addition to the uncertain situation major league teams find themselves in after an odd season for everyone involved in 2020, and with the pandemic ongoing, there are an awful lot of unanswered questions, financial and otherwise, right now as teams build their rosters for 2021, with an obvious one for National League teams like the Nationals the question of whether or not a DH in the NL is still going to be a thing in 2021. So how does all that factor into his thinking as Rizzo goes about his business?
“Well, we’re going to make some assumptions,” he said. “We’re going to assume that we are not going to have the DH in the National League this year, that’s just the way we’re planning it, and if that changes like it changed last year we’ll make an adjustment.
“That’s kind of how — for our preseason planning stages — that’s how we’ve done it, we’re going to kind of build a National League style of team, without a typical designated hitter involved in it, but a team that will compete without a designated hitter, but still — that’s just the way we’ve attacked it early on in the [offseason] and again, we’re at the infancy stages of kind of putting together the final parts of this roster.
“We’ve attacked the fringes of the roster a little bit, gave ourselves some bullpen depth and some roster flexibility with some younger starting pitchers. The fact that we came into the offseason with a 30-man, 40-man roster it allowed us to utilize the waiver wire and to make some major league contracts that in the past might have been non-roster minor league contracts to get the players that we wanted.
“We’ve attacked the fringes of the roster and now the guts of what we’re going to do this offseason I think will come in the next couple of months and we feel confident again that with the current club, as we have it, with some additions, we think we’re going to be competing again for championships.”
As of last Tuesday afternoon, Rizzo said, the club did not have any offers out to players who could address the club’s roster needs.
“We do not have any official offers on the table right now,” he said.
As for when he thinks some offers might be extended, or when the currently lukewarm Hot Stove might heat up?
“I don’t have a timeline or a sense pre-Christmas or post-Christmas or anything like that,” Rizzo said.
“We make our offers and we shoot to the middle of the target and then the ball will be in the player’s court to accept it or not.
“If the right player at the right price agrees to our terms then things can happen at any time, but there’s no set timetable for when we’re going to do anything.”