Mike Rizzo talked at the end of the 2020 regular season about how Washington’s Nationals would approach the offseason as they tried to bounce back from what he’d acknowledged was a disappointing follow-up to their 2020 World Series championship.
“We’re a winning organization, we’ve got a bunch of winners over here, and our goal is to win again,” Rizzo said in late September, after a long-term extension with manager Davey Martinez was announced. “Win again next year in 2021, that’s our primary focus and with the leadership in place now, we can move on to roster construction and preparation for the 2021 season, and hopefully it will be closer to a normal regular, major league season, but if not we need to adapt and adjust and make sure that this type of finish doesn’t happen again.”
After a World Series win in 2019, the Nationals finished tied for last in the NL East in the 60-game COVID campaign, with a 26-34 record on the year, but Rizzo said he’s determined to get right back to the postseason.
“We haven’t won four division titles, a world championship, and a whole bunch of games by not having a clear concise strategy to put together another championship-caliber club, and that’s our goal for next year, to do the same,” the GM added.
So how have things gone since then? What have Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office been up to since the end of the regular season?
“It’s been a good, active, kind of a busy, information-gathering time like it always is at this part of the offseason,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Tuesday.
Will Ryan Zimmerman or Howie Kendrick return in 2021? In a shaky first baseman market, the #Nats don't currently have one on their 40-man roster. Mike Rizzo addressed Zimmerman with @JunksRadio: https://t.co/Mr64emIN9W— 106.7 The Fan (@1067theFan) December 2, 2020
While they’ve been tied to some of the big free agent and trade targets this winter, over at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal reported this week that Rizzo was, “... scheduled to speak with team ownership on Tuesday,” at which point he could get, “... greater clarity on the club’s payroll for 2021,” while adding that, “... the Nats remain unlikely to be a major player for a big-ticket item such as Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant or free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu, sources say.”
With multiple holes to fill on the roster this winter, Rosenthal reasoned, “[t]he team probably cannot afford to commit to a Bryant or LeMahieu,” though sticking with Carter Kieboom and re-signing Ryan Zimmerman to play third and first, respectively, in 2021, “... might leave the Nats with enough flexibility to sign, say, Marcell Ozuna or Michael Brantley for the outfield, and catcher James McCann to pair with Yan Gomes,” behind the plate.
Those moves would give the Nationals the big bat they need in the middle of the lineup and a catcher to share duties with Gomes, assuming they don’t bring Kurt Suzuki back to D.C. to continue his second run with the organization.
Rizzo wasn’t about to give anything away when he was asked about the rumors which have the club in on some of the top names on the free agent and trade markets this winter.
“I think it’s a little too early to comment on them,” he told the Junkies. “We’re doing all of our homework on all of those guys, and it’s a really good class of free agents this year. We’ll know a little bit more after the tender date, which is coming up in the next day or so, about what the actually field of players is really going to look like and then we’ll start implementing our offseason plan and as we always do we’ll make adjustments along the way, but we’re going to be our normal, aggressive selves, and try to put together a team that can win the championship again.”
On Wednesday night, the club announced they, “... have tendered contracts to all unsigned players on the 40-man roster, including outfielder Juan Soto and shortstop Trea Turner.”
Now that we’re past the tender date, when does Rizzo expect the big names to start signing this winter?
“You never know on these things,” he told the Junkies.
“Certain years it takes a little longer than others, but often these free agent seasons, you get a top-flight player go off the board quickly. I have no idea what this year’s free agent season is going to look like as far as timing, but there are a lot of really good players out there and there are teams that want to fill some spots with some great players, so it’s a good way to kind of facilitate the roster and kind of put you into a position to go into Spring Training as a really good team.”