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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talks pending free agents; Davey Martinez and a potential extension + more

Are the Nationals interested in bringing Sean Doolittle back? How are the talks with Davey Martinez going?

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Davey Martinez got choked up when he was asked this past weekend about the possibility that injured players like Howie Kendrick and Sean Doolittle might have played for the club for the last time after making significant contributions to the Washington Nationals in their time in the nation’s capital.

“I try not to think about it,” Martinez said, before a long pause to compose himself.

“Because it is sad ... when we get there, but right now I don’t want to think about it. These guys are — as you know I love these guys, so...”

Kendrick had a hamstring issue finally prove too much to put up with after he tried playing through it for close to a month.

“He’s tried a lot of different things,” Martinez said. “But he’s not willing to give up. He’s still going to try to see if he can get this right.

“It’s hard. He understands his age, but he feels like he still has something left in the tank and we believe that, so hopefully we can get him right.”

Looking towards the future, the third-year skipper said that he thinks Kendrick, 37, could still be a player who contributes to the Nationals’ cause. There’s a $6.5M mutual option ($2.25M buyout) included in the 1-year/$6.25M deal he signed after briefly becoming a free agent in late 2019, after helping the Nationals win the World Series last October.

“If we can keep Howie and he can play 3-4 times a week, five times a week, he does a lot of good things for us. As you know, he’s a pure hitter, can play some first base if needed, if the DH is still here next year obviously he could DH for us,” Martinez reasoned, “so he needs to figure out what it’s going to take for him to prepare and be ready, and so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Doolittle, who spent time on the Injured List in August sorting out his mechanics and trying to get his decreased velocity back where it’s been in the recent past, with right knee fatigue an issue as well, returned to the mound in the majors this month and he looked more like himself before an oblique injury put him back on the 10-Day IL, likely for the remainder of the regular season.

“He’s got a significant strain of his oblique so he’s going to be out for a while,” Martinez said on Saturday.

“I don’t want to say the whole rest of the season, but at least for the [regular] season, maybe we can get him back for the playoffs, but he’s going to be out significantly.”

In six games and 4 23 innings pitched after he returned from the IL, Doolittle gave up just two hits and two walks, with one unearned run scoring in those outings, in which the left-hander held opposing hitters (18 batters) to a combined .143/.235/.143 line.

GM Mike Rizzo was asked on Sunday if he saw the Doolittle of old in what will likely end up being his final games of the season.

“I thought I saw glimpses of the old Doo,” Rizzo told reporters. “I think his velocity was still climbing, I think it was going in the right direction. Of course his spin rate is a key for him and his location, so I saw all that improving, I didn’t think he was a finished product yet, it would have been nice to see the last 3-4 weeks of progression. Also, with his struggles and trials and tribulations, he made himself kind of a different pitcher. He kind of rebuilt himself.

“Mixing in more breaking balls and more changeups and utilizing four quadrants instead of really the upper two quadrants which he’s had so much success with.

“I didn’t see the finished product Doolittle, but I saw Doolittle getting close to the lights out reliever that we’ve had in the past.”

Doolittle is set to hit free agency after playing out the final season of what ended up being a 7-year/$22.5M deal when the Nationals picked up two options tacked on to the end of the 5-year/$10.5M extension the southpaw signed with the Oakland A’s in 2014.

Did Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office see enough from Doolittle to judge what they think he’ll have to offer in 2021 in beyond?

The GM and President of Baseball Operations in the nation’s capital said that he just wants to play out the regular season and see how things work out before starting to think about decisions that have to be made this winter.

“I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself,” Rizzo explained.

“We’ll take all of those big global kind of roster questions into account when we have our kind of our autopsy after the season, and we’ve got a lot of decisions to make.

“Doo is one of the crucial decisions to make. We’ll wait for all the information and gather all our analytics and medical information and make our decisions based on that.”

Another decision has to do with the Nationals’ manager. Martinez has a club option at $1.2M for the 2021 season tacked on to the end of the 3-year/$2.8M contract he signed in 2017.

Rizzo said after signing his own long-term extension earlier this month that Martinez’s deal was priority No. 1. He also said his preference would be to move beyond the 2021 option, and work out a longer-term contract, and he told reporters on Sunday that the two sides have had discussions.

“We’ve been in conversations with his representation and I feel optimistic that we will get something done,” Rizzo said. “And it’s something that I want to happen and I think Davey wants the same end result. We’re in conversations right now. We’re not going to talk about negotiations or where we’re at, but we’re talking and I think that’s a good thing.”