Before the addition of Kyle Schwarber on what is reportedly a 1-year/$10M free agent deal, Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez was already jotting down potential lineup configurations. Martinez told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette this past Sunday that he likes the options that the Nats have now that they’ve traded for a new first baseman, Josh Bell, and added Schwarber as a corner outfielder.
“We got an early Christmas gift with Josh Bell and now we just added Schwarber,” Martinez said, when asked about potential batting order combinations, “... so our lineup is looking good with — obviously we have Trea [Turner], [Juan] Soto, then we get Starlin [Castro] back, we’ve got some of our young guys, [Victor] Robles, [Carter] Kieboom, we feel pretty good right now. With that being said, I know that [GM Mike Rizzo] is always busy, he’s always looking to make us better. We communicate quite a bit throughout the week, and there’s still a lot of available players out there, but we feel confident with the two guys we just [added] moving forward, so it’s a great start, and looking forward to Spring Training.”
Going into the Hot Stove season, Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office prioritized the addition of a middle of the order bat or two, “to complement the rest of our middle of the lineup bats,” as the GM and President of Baseball Ops explained in mid-December, and it’s up to Martinez to figure out how to best use the pieces he’s given to work with once it all starts up again in mid-February (barring any setbacks or developments with COVID).
Martinez said he’s been thinking about optimal lineups from the get-go this winter.
“The minute we got Bell,” the manager told the MLB Network Radio hosts this weekend, “I said, ‘Okay, here we go, now we have Trea, Soto, Bell,’ we didn’t have Schwarber yet, but you know I said, ‘We’ve got Starlin, who can move the baseball, whose bat-to-ball skills are phenomenal, and then we add Schwarber,’ so now I’m thinking, ‘Alright, now we’ve got Trea, Soto, Bell, Schwarber, Starlin, Gomes, you can possibly move Robles, depending on how he goes, maybe move him seventh, Kieboom eight, and we’ll see how that works.
“But the beautiful thing is we have options, and I kind of like that a lot.”
He’s also looking forward to being reunited with Schwarber, who was in Chicago when the Nationals’ skipper served as the Cubs’ bench coach (2015-17) under Joe Maddon. Martinez said he was impressed with the outfielder’s approach to the game.
“He is all about winning,” Martinez said, “and he became available and obviously Rizzo and I talked about him. I’ve always loved him. He’s a gamer. He plays hard. You know what you’re going to get every day from him, and he works — probably one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever met. He just wants to get better, he loves his teammates and then just wants to go out there and play and win.”
Martinez also talked about getting Bell back on track after the 28-year-old outfielder put up big numbers in the first half of the 2019 campaign (.302/.376/.648, 30 doubles, 27 home runs, 42 walks and 79 Ks in 88 games and 388 plate appearances) before struggling in the second half of ‘19 (.233/.351/.429, seven doubles, 10 HRs, 32 walks, 39 Ks in 55 G and 225 PAs) and 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign (.226/.305/.364, three doubles, eight homers, 22 walks, 59 Ks in 57 G, 223 PAs).
“For us, it’s all — one, we like his make-up, obviously, we thought he’d fit, we thought he’d complement the rest of those guys in our lineup,” the manager explained.
“He had a monster, monster first half, slowed down a little bit the second half in ‘19, but we feel like — my coaching staff is unbelievable, we talk about these guys before we get them, we watch a bunch of video and we feel like we can get him back to where he needs to be.”
“We feel like the best is yet to come with Josh,” he added, “and he’s got a lot of upside. The biggest thing I love about him, again, he’s great in the clubhouse, he fits our culture, he’s a gamer, he wants to play every day, he doesn’t want to sit, and he’s willing to try to get better every day, and I love that about him.”
Having added two big bats to the middle of the lineup, what’s next for the Nationals, who still have holes to fill on their roster before Spring Training starts next month (again, if the circumstances around the country allow it). A partner for Yan Gomes? A 4th or 5th starter? Bullpen help?
Martinez was asked specifically if he thinks the Nationals need to bolster the relief corps in the nation’s capital.
“We’re constantly talking about different things. We signed a young player early, Sam Clay, a left-handed pitcher who has a lot of upside, I can’t wait to see him compete in Spring Training. We’ve got a couple young guys that we feel are knocking on our door that can help our bullpen a lot. But like I said, Mike is always looking to make us better, we’re constantly talking, there’s so many available relievers and players, good players still out there, so I like where we’re going, I like where we’re headed. Just because things have been a little slow doesn’t mean something won’t click and a player will come up.
“But we’re always looking to get better, but I like where we’re at right now, and like I said, I’m looking forward to getting to Spring Training and start working with these guys and get them ready for the season.”