Mike Rizzo departed baseball’s General Manager Meetings this afternoon with the theme of the Nationals’ offseason very much in place. After he laid groundwork and met with other teams and agents, Rizzo believes the Nationals will take varied plans into the winter and shape the roster based on how events play out.
“I don’t have a distinct No. 1 priority,” Rizzo said as he left the Hyatt Regency in Indian Wells, Calif. “We’ll see what’s the best deal, and then we’ll make our decisions off that. We’re very versatile in that regard. If we get a pitcher, then the other dominoes fall. If [Adam] LaRoche signs, then the other dominoes fall.
“We’ve kind of got multiple things going on. We’ll see what falls first, and then we’ll take our preferential list after that. We’ve got parallel plans going. We’ve got parallel discussions going.”
About LaRoche, Rizzo has not heard official word from LaRoche’s camp about the one-year, $13.3-million qualifying offer the Nationals gave him last week. But Rizzo fully expects LaRoche to decline, the logical decision for a player of LaRoche’s caliber looking for a multi-year deal. If LaRoche ends up signing elsewhere, the Nationals will receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds next summer.
LaRoche, to borrow Rizzo’s parlance, could be the biggest domino to fall. If the Nationals cannot re-sign him, they have options to replace him at first base with Michael Morse and Tyler Moore. That would vacate a spot in the outfield, which would put the Nationals in search of either a corner outfielder or center fielder. They have flexibility, because Rizzo feels comfortable either keeping Harper in center or moving him to left, with Jayson Werth in right.
The Nationals could acquire their outfielder either in free agency – with Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton being likely targets – or via a trade. The best player apparently available in a trade is Arizona’s Justin Upton, whom Rizzo drafted No. 1 overall when he was the Diamondbacks’ scouting director in 2005. Upton had a relative down year in 2012 as he played through a thumb injury, but he is just 25 and finished fourth in the 2011 N.L. MVP voting.
“He’s a great player,” Rizzo said. “All the trades, you have to balance. Of course Justin Upton improves our club. He improves any club. But what holes does it create to get him? Do the holes create more problems than the acquisition?”
When the Nationals consider trades this winter, Rizzo said, they would attempt to use their depth. The Nationals consider pitching and infield to be their two deepest spots, from the major leagues down to the lowest minor league rungs.
“Everyone sees we’ve got four good starters” in the majors, Rizzo said. “We have a little drop-off in Triple A, but then you go four or five deep in guys who are going to be here the next wave, in ’14: [Alex] Meyer, [Sammy] Solis, [Matt] Purke, [Nathan] Karns. Those are four guys that are pretty coveted around baseball. They’re good players.”
In the infield, the Nationals have Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Steve Lombardozzi entrenched in the majors. In the minors, they have Anthony Rendon, Rick Hague, Matt Skole and a few other attractive prospects.
“We think we’re deep in the infield,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got great athletes. They’re young, controllable. And we’ve got a lot of them.”
Before they can make any additional moves, the Nationals still have to complete Manager Davey Johnson’s contract to manage in 2013. Rizzo said the deal is still in the final stages and likely will be completed shortly.