By the middle of the day Wednesday, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was already on his way home to Washington, a day before the end of the winter meetings at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Manager Davey Johnson, after the managers’ luncheon with their respective beat reporters, was also headed home, to Florida. The Nationals, unlike many years past, had accomplished what they needed and two of their top decision makers didn’t feel the need to stick around for Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.
“We didn’t have a whole big wish list,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a whole big wish list.”
The Nationals are in a unique position: a team filled with players under several more years of team control at most every position and needing only a handful of pieces to address in the offseason. Last week, they acquired the center fielder and leadoff hitter they long coveted in Denard Span. On Tuesday, they agreed to terms with a veteran and proven starting pitcher that solidifies the only empty spot in the rotation with Dan Haren. Unlike previous seasons, the Nationals won’t have much need for players from the Rule 5 draft since their 40-man roster is all but set, and instead will likely lose a few players they left unprotected. (What a change in Washington, right?)
The few remaining pieces for the Nationals involve determining whether Adam LaRoche will return, potentially adding a left-handed reliever and possibly more starting pitchers to stash in the minors.
“The only area that we need a little depth is our starting pitching,” Johnson said. “And we need that and we’ll have a couple guys that we’re real high on in Syracuse. A lot of our young studs will be in Double A. But I like our infield depth. I like the way our outfield depth has come together; [Brian] Goodwin, [Eury] Perez, Michael Taylor. I like where we’re going as an organization. I said last year we’re about a year and a half away from our good young players knocking on the door. Well, a lot of those guys helped get us over the hump this last year.”
Johnson made an interesting observation, as well. The Nationals have been adept at picking up players who have struggled recently, like Zach Duke and Michael Gonzalez, worked with them and gotten good contributions from them, boosting their value. Duke re-signed with Washington on Monday and Gonzalez has the interest of several teams in need of a left-handed reliever.
“[Rizzo is] very good at picking up those kind of guys and I think that’s what we got going on in Washington now,” Johnson said. “I think that there is more guys that see that there is an opportunity. When free agents see a guy like Gonzalez came in and got called up, same way with Zach Duke and we sign them. They look at my infield and see I got a good infield, good catching and really good outfield defense. It’s a good place to play.”
While there’s nothing new to report on whether LaRoche will sign with the Nationals, Johnson was again asked about his already very clear position: that he wants the first baseman back next season and hopes he and the Nationals will reach a deal in negotiations.
“I won’t really sleep real comfortable until he does,” Johnson said. “I hope that gets worked out. Everybody knows each other. I think everybody has a lot of comfort zones, not just on the field but in the clubhouse and off the field. I had him in my golf tournament. I told him, ‘You don’t want to go somewhere and be miserable. You know you’re going to have a good time in D.C. I won’t platoon you.’ So, we’ll see. Hopefully. I don’t know if there’s a deadline. But that’d be a nice Christmas present.”
Johnson was soon on a plane back to Orlando, leaving a hotel still filled with baseball executives, his team already in good position and awaiting the resolution of only a handful of matters like LaRoche.