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Mixed messages about direction of Washington Nationals this offseason

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After a disappointing World Series title defense, there’s little clarity yet about the Nationals’ offseason plans...

Tampa Bay Rays v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Though some predicted plenty of drama this week in Major League Baseball with the non-tender deadline looming, it turned out to be fairly uneventful.

That was the case both around the league and for the Washington Nationals.

There were some raised eyebrows around the league with well-known names like Kyle Schwarber and Eddie Rosario seeing the deadline pass without a contract tendered to them, though it wasn’t the bloodbath that a few in the industry were wary of coming into the day.

Meanwhile, after letting go of Michael A. Taylor a few weeks ago, the Nats were left with just three remaining arbitration-eligible players. On Wednesday, they settled on a $1.5 million salary with Joe Ross before officially tendering contracts to Trea Turner and Juan Soto.

In theory, with the non-tender deadline in the rearview mirror, the Nationals’ plans on how to attack this offseason should now begin to come into focus in the next few weeks.

The thing is, there are still some mixed messages out there about the team’s plans...

In a recent interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, Nationals GM, Mike Rizzo, was as non-committal as ever on the team’s winter plans when asked how the winter was going.

“It’s been a good, active, kind of a busy, information-gathering time like it always is at this part of the offseason,” Rizzo explained.

It was the same story when the Junkies asked about whether the Nationals were looking at any of this offseason’s big-ticket free agents on the market at all.

“I think it’s a little too early to comment on them,” the Nats’ GM said. “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 actual 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.”

Early indications in the offseason chatter seemed to have the nation’s capital as a potential destination for some of the bigger names available via free agency and trade.

Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs has been a popular match for the Nationals in many reports.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi has also had the team connected to 2020 AL MVP finalist, DJ LeMahieu.

And while there are no rumors out there connecting the two just yet, there’s bound to be chatter coming about everyone’s, including Juan Soto’s, favorite catcher, J.T. Realmuto.

Often in the last few years, the Nationals have had a habit of making a splash. The links to the bigger names is hardly a surprise with that track record and the fact that they are coming off a season that fell well short of expectations in the abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, however, poured some cold water on those rumors out when he reported 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.”

Rosenthal’s colleague and Nationals beat writer, Brittany Ghiroli added to that on Thursday, saying that the rumors connecting Bryant to Washington were a bit “overblown.”

Is it just the Nationals front office trying to quell the rumors that they might be looking at high-end players of a few weeks ago, or is it the reality that the D.C. faithful should prepare for a more subdued offseason? Welcome to the rumor mill!

That said, it definitely feels a lot different from the last few offseasons.

Coming off of both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, it was clear that the Nationals were going to be players at the top-end of the market as they reeled in Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg respectively.

This year, especially with all the talk about how the free agent market could lose some sizzle this winter as MLB teams attempt to cut costs to make up for the lost revenue from the 2020 season, it’s possible that Washington could follow suit and temper themselves a bit.

We won’t know for sure what Rizzo and the front office plans to do until they eventually dip their toes into the slow-moving market. The mixed signals so far from various sources might be an indication that even the Nationals aren’t totally sure what direction they will take this offseason...