If you listen to Manager Davey Johnson, the Nats may need to add only one, or at most two players right now. If your list is short, you can shop fast.
Dec. 1 is the date when baseball’s hot stove league usually heats up, sometimes reaching a boiling point in a hurry. One big signing serves as a catalyst for the next. Last year, Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee went off the free agent board on Dec. 3, 5, 7 and 15, signing almost a half-billion dollars’ worth of guaranteed contracts.
So far in his tenure, Rizzo has been predictably unpredictable. He does exactly what he says he’ll do; but the names, like Werth, can be a shock. His timing can be unexpected. The winter meetings, with lots of trades, start Monday. The Nats signed Werth the day before last year’s winter meetings.
Now, the GM says he wants a quality 200-inning starter, but not just a workhorse. That sounds like Buehrle or Oswalt. But, given Rizzo’s $25 million offer to Aroldis Chapman two offseasons ago, it might be a star like Yu Darvish or Tsuyoshi Wada from Japan. “Mike’s out of the country,” Johnson said slyly on Tuesday.
Rizzo also openly covets that center fielder who can hit leadoff, probably in a trade. Upton of the Rays, Denard Span of the Twins or even free agent Coco Crisp fit the general mold. But so does Cuba’s Yoenis Cespedes, much scouted by the Nats, but on whom opinions vary widely.
The Nats have a low enough payroll to go after almost any free agent, even Fielder, at least in theory. The team is deep enough in young pitchers, middle infielders and catching prospects that any trade is plausible. Yet, according to Johnson, the best strategy for this winter may be patience.
“We can contend for the playoffs next year right where we are, with a couple of tweaks. We’re one player, maybe two players, away from being a strong team,” Johnson said.
Then he made it clear one of those players might be Bryce Harper, 19. “You can’t hide talent,” Johnson said. “Bryce is like Dwight Gooden [in the Mets’ rotation at age 19]. If he’s ready, he’s ready.”
Johnson would welcome Buehrle or Oswalt, who would “improve an area where we are pretty good already so that it’s really pretty good.
“But we already have seven starters with first-division stuff. It takes time to find out how good Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone can be. It took three years in the majors for Ron Darling to figure it out.”
As for gaudier acquisitions, Johnson is skeptical whether a Fielder, or a center fielder who comes at high cost, would be best for the Nats, despite the immediate impact.