Talking on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings earlier this month, Washington Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo told reporters the club was in the market for arms of any kind which could help the team in 2024 (and beyond), but starting pitching for sure if the right deal is out there.
“I think you’re seeing everyone’s needs are the same,” Rizzo explained. “Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport. We’re no different. You can never have enough of it, and we’re in search of it.”
“We’ve got several holes to fill,” he added.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us this year. I think that we’re going to take our aggressive approach when it suits us and kind of wait for the market when it suits us.”
What they don’t want to do, the GM in D.C. said, is sign long-term deals, for position players or pitchers, which could potentially block the prospects they have coming up in the system.
“We’re not going to block guys,” he said. “But if we’re fortunate enough that we have this influx of guys that are knocking on the big league door, then that’ll be a good day for us here. We — players, they tell me when they’re ready, they’ll let us know by their play on the field and we’ve never had a problem with moving players quickly to the big leagues, if they can perform up there. And we will have no qualms about putting them to the big leagues now.”
In terms of their pitching, in particular, manager Davey Martinez talked about the strides he saw the young members of the starting staff make, with Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, Jackson Rutledge, and Joan Adon all contributing to the cause. In order for those guys to continue to develop, they’ll need innings and opportunities.
“I want to see our young pitchers pitch,” as Martinez put it.
“Some of these guys got a year under their belts, some of them have three quarters of a year under their belt. I want to see what they can do coming out of Spring Training.
“I want to see them grow, though,” he added. “I want to see them compete. So this to me is going to be an interesting Spring Training to see how they bounce back from last year.
“Because a lot of them did pitch a lot. We had some guys that were injured before, and they made it through last year.
“So this year will be critical. But, yeah, I’ll take a good quality starter any time.”
Part of the development process might be once again turning to a six-man rotation as they did down the stretch last season as the Nationals’ coaching staff tried to manage innings.
It’s something the Nats’ brass has already discussed as a possibility.
“We already talked about it,” Martinez acknowledged.
“I looked at the schedule, fortunately we got a lot of days off in the beginning. We do have a couple of stretches where we play 17 in a row, 15 in a row.
“So we might incorporate a six-man rotation during that time.”
“I think we’ll be careful,” Rizzo said of how they’ll manage their young starters in 2024.
“We’re always careful. But we’re going to take the reins off them a little bit this year. We were careful with them last year, we really handled all of them with kid gloves.”
“I think this year we’re going to let the reins loose a little bit on those guys,” he continued.
“We’ve got some good depth in the minor leagues — which we really haven’t had that much in the past, and I think that learning on the job in the big leagues is not easy. I think you saw some progress with those pitchers last year, and hopefully all those guys take another step in their progression and we can backfill with some of our own prospects from the minors to the big leagues.”
Martinez also said, however, he wouldn’t be surprised to see Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office add arms to the mix (as they did with the addition of Dylan Floro to the back of the bullpen already this winter).
“[Rizzo], he’s a competitor and he wants to win games,” Martinez said. “We could add another starting pitcher in that mix.”
The club could also add Cade Cavalli (still the No. 1 pitching prospect in the organization), to the mix.
Cavalli, 25, and the team’s 2020 1st Round pick, underwent Tommy John surgery last spring, but, if all goes to plan, would be on schedule to pitch in the majors again at some point this season.
“Cavalli is [champing] at the bit for Spring Training,” Rizzo said. “We will definitely have to pull him back in Spring Training and kind of pull the reins back on him, but we expected that, and we’ve had the conversation with him, we’ll have a long conversation with him at Spring Training.”