Not yet halfway through December, the Nationals have wrapped up their three most important objectives in improving their team in 2014. They acquired a top-shelf No. 4 starter in Doug Fister, a highly capable fourth outfielder in Nate McLouth and, in a move they worked on throughout the winter meetings, a left-handed reliever in Jerry Blevins.
They have filled out their rotation, strengthened their bench and tweaked their bullpen. “We think that we have kinda accomplished what we set out to do when the season ended in ’13,” Rizzo said. “We had an offseason plan in place and we’ve accomplished the things that we have set out to. We feel good about that.”
And so what’s next for the Nationals? They will likely continue to look for another bat off the bench. They have shown interest in free agent Jeff Baker, who has received attention from five or six other teams. The Nationals may not be able to offer as much playing time as other suitors, which according to Comcast Bay Area include the Giants.
The Nationals will also keep looking at backup catchers. It is not imperative for them to sign another backstop, because they feel comfortable with Jhonatan Solano as Wilson Ramos’s backup. But they will still explore their options. They do not have interest in John Buck, one of the top available catchers, at least based on track record.
The most important moves of the Nationals’ winter could be to keep their own players in Washington for years to come. The Nationals will again try to extend the contracts of starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond before spring training. Each has two years remaining before free agency, and each has become a major part of the Nationals’ core.
If the Nationals cannot extend Zimmermann this winter, they would be forced to consider trading him at this time next year, according to a person familiar with the situation. When the Nationals traded for Fister, that went into their thought process: If they couldn’t extend Zimmermann and ultimately traded him after 2014, then Fister would still give them a front three of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Fister.
The same logic may apply to Desmond, but the difficulty of finding a replacement would likely make the Nationals more apt to keep Desmond through the end of his contract.
In any event, the best-case scenario for the Nationals would be signing both to extensions this winter, keeping them off the free agent market and eliminating the future headache of having to replace them.
“If they fit as one of your core group that you’re going to want to keep for the long term, you either go with the guy that you have signed or scouted and developed and know as good or better than anybody in baseball or you go up to the point and go out and get a free agent who you’re less familiar with,” Rizzo said. “If it’s a balance between, you’re gonna go out and get a free agent or extend the guy that you have or you know, that obviously is the benefit, that you know exactly what this guy’s health is, what his arm is, what his personality is and is he a guy that you want to extend long term because those long term contracts you really have to know that personality and the track record and the history. I think that makes it easier to give guys longer terms contracts that you know than guys you’re going out in the free agent market and that you don’t know as well.”