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MLB Winter Meetings 2022: Washington Nationals still looking for pitching, and a power bat or two...

Some things have changed since last we heard from GM Mike Rizzo, but not all that much, really...

Talking at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters Monday night not a lot has changed since he last spoke to the press. Rizzo & Co. in the Nationals’ front office still think they need to add a bat (or two), and a starter/starting depth, which is what he and manager Davey Martinez both said at the end of the 2022 season, which ended with the ballclub 55-107 in Year Two of the reboot they kicked off with their sell-off of expiring deals (and a year-plus of Trea Turner*) at the trade deadline in 2021.

[ed. note - “ * = “More on Turner, who signed an 11-year/$300M free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday, below.”]

What has changed? Rizzo said he does now what he’s working with this winter in terms of a budget for the team, which is also for sale at the moment. When he spoke back in October, they were still sorting things out and waiting for word on payroll flexibility.

But the payroll clarity Rizzo said they would get to once they’d assessed the ‘22 campaign is there as the 2022 Winter Meetings begin.

“Yeah, we’ve got payroll clarity, and we’re marching ahead with our blueprint and our plan for this offseason,” Rizzo said late on Day 1 of the meetings.

“And I think that we’ve got scheduled a lot of things that we’re trying to get done here, and hopefully we can do something here, or shortly thereafter, to improve our club.”

Will the something they do be a trade? Their Rule 5 pick (the Nationals do have the No. 1 pick in this year’s Rule 5 draft)? A free agent signing?

“Rule 5 draft and the free agent market and the trade market, all the things that make these winter meetings so special,” Rizzo said when asked where a move/addition might be made.

The focus, when it comes to how to improve on last year’s dismal results, is still very much the same as it was after Game 162 of 162 in October.

“Hasn’t changed,” Rizzo said. “Still we think starting pitching is something that we’re looking for and possibly another offensive player would be great. Since then we have added a couple of offensive players on the roster, so we’re looking forward to see what they could do for us, and we think that — we’re certainly not finished because of the two additions we made (infielder Jeimer Candelario and outfielder Stone Garrett), but we’re comfortable that those two guys should help us.”

Martinez, heading into his 6th season on the bench, echoed Rizzo’s sentiments when he too spoke with reporters (at the end of last season and) on Monday in San Diego.

“Look, as you know we’ve got some starters already in our rotation,” Martinez explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “But we don’t feel like we have enough. As the season goes along, things happen. We do need – especially if we can get another veteran starter, it will be great – one or two. I talked to [Rizzo] about it, and as you guys know, I truly believe in starting pitching. That’s what we’re looking to do right now.”

While the Nationals, through free agent signings, trades, and the draft, do have Josiah Gray, Patrick Corbin, MacKenzie Gore, and Cade Cavalli lined up as potential rotation arms, along with other options already in the organization, Rizzo said it was still an area they’re planning to address this winter.

“You never have enough depth,” he said.

“We are looking to upgrade the starting pitching most prominently.”

As for what they’re looking for on the free agent and trade markets this winter?

“Durability is a key issue, both in position players and in pitching,” Rizzo explained.

“We want the best player that gives us the best impact. And that could be logging the most innings, performing the best, track record, veteran presence — there’s a lot of things that go into the decision on who to target and who to go after.”

What he and everyone in the nation’s capital are hoping is that the club not only has more depth in terms of pitching, but also, as noted above, durable arms, who can help the club after an injury-filled 2022 campaign which hamstrung them from the start.

“I think that going into the season — we had seven starting pitchers from our 40-man roster on the [Injured List] at one time, so that’s pretty destructive for anybody’s roster, it certainly didn’t help us,” Rizzo said.

Will Corbin build on the final few starts of 2022 when he showed signs of life following three years of struggles? Will Stephen Strasburg return after another lost season, another surgery, and another sad, unfortunate, setback with his rehab from Thoracic Outlet surgery?

Rizzo provided a sort-of update on the now-34-year-old starter, who’s made just eight starts and thrown just 31 13 innings in the big leagues since helping the club win it all in 2019 (and signing a 7-year/$245M extension later that winter).

“[Strasburg is] not doing anything off the mound yet, but he’s progressing to get it to that point,” the GM said on Monday.

So... if the club needs starting depth and a big bat (or two), how to explain the decisions to non-tender 2014 1st Round pick Erick Fedde and Luke Voit, the major league component in the return from the Padres for Juan Soto and Josh Bell in this past August’s trade deadline deal (along with highly-regarded prospects Gore, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, and Jarlin Susana)?

“He’s a first round pick that pitched for us for six seasons, was on our championship club,” Rizzo said, starting with the decision on Fedde. “He was one of the 17 homegrown players on the 2019 club, so we think that he was a good big league player for us, he was a good National, and we just felt that non-tendering was the right thing to do for the organization, and something that — we wish him the best, but we think that we’re going to move forward without him.”

And the decision on Voit?

“We all have payrolls and budgets that we have to adhere to, and we felt that non-tendering him was the right place to — to put our money in a different place,” Rizzo said, “... and we felt that Luke was a good teammate for us and had some success, but we felt that we could — we’re going to allocate those dollars differently.”

It’s not getting any easier for the Nationals, who’ve finished 5th in the five-team NL East in each of the past three seasons, with their divisional rivals are spending big again, with the New York Mets signing starter Justin Verlander (2/$86.66M) on Monday afternoon, and the Philadelphia Phillies signing former Nats’ shortstop Trea Turner (11/$300) a while later.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s a competitive advantage for sure, there’s no question about it,” Rizzo said of the spending their rivals are doing this winter.

“But again, when we started this thing back in 2009, we won 98 games in 2012 with a very low payroll, and continued to [ratchet it up] north, so we’re fully-capable of doing this again. We’ve — again, we’ve done it before, we know what the blueprint is all about. We know how to do it.”

There was steady progress between 2009-12, with 59 wins in ‘09, 69 in 2010, 80 wins in 2011, and 98 in ‘12 when they made the postseason for the first time. Do they expect the same as they build the next contender in D.C.? Is it important to see steady progress, for fans as well as the organization?

“Obviously 55 wins last year was a major disappointment,” Rizzo said.

“We thought we were better than that coming out of Spring Training. We’re judged by wins and losses at the big league level. And that’s always the criteria that we’re cognizant of, and we want to win.

“We’re tired of the rebuild term, reboot term, whatever we’ve called it. The important part is for our young players to progress and to get better, and if they do progress, and get better, it puts us on the right road and it wins us more games.

“So I think that if the question is are we expecting to win more games this year than we did last year, by all means we are.”

[ed. note - “Oh, yeah, we forgot about at that Trea Turner-related *. Here is what Rizzo said about the deal Turner got from the Phillies: ‘I’m happy for Trea. Love it. I’m glad he got paid a lot of money. He’s a winner.’”]