A few notes from the day, with more to come the rest of the week.
>>> Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, asked to describe the expected style of play of the 2016 Nationals:
“You’re going to have a team that is going to have four or five players that are 24 and younger. It’s going to be a younger, less experienced but more athletic team with more speed. Those are the characteristics that we’re going to bring into the season. A lineup that has a healthy [Anthony] Rendon, a Michael Taylor, a Trea Turner, a Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa: those are five guys that are young players that have all have exceptional speed and good baserunning ability. In that regard, that’ll be a little transformation.”
Last season, the Nationals (average age: 28.6) had the sixth-oldest roster in baseball. The teams that were older, in order: Giants, Blue Jays, Royals, Pirates and Cardinals. But with the departures of free agents such as Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Nate McLouth, Reed Johnson, Dan Uggla, Doug Fister, Casey Janssen and Matt Thornton, the Nationals are expected to get younger by paving way for Joe Ross, Turner and perhaps more.
Under Baker, new baserunning coach Davey Lopes and presumably better health, the Nationals are expected to be more athletic on the basepaths next season, too. Injuries and/or struggles to Denard Span, Rendon and Desmond, for example, cost the Nationals’ on the basepaths. They were in the bottom third of the majors in stolen bases and baserunning. The defense, too, could also improve with more athletic and/or speedier players at certain positions.
>>> The Nationals have interest in free agent veteran utility man Ben Zobrist, according to people familiar with the situation. Zobrist isn’t believed to a top priority but the Nationals have long been interested in the versatile player. Zobrist, 34, could still command a formidable multi-year deal despite his age.
Zobrist, a switch-hitter, is intriguing because he could bring a left-handed bat to the Nationals’ right-handed heavy lineup. His preferred position is second base and his presence, through the ripple effects, could fortify the bench. He could also play left field, as he did for the Royals last season, when needed. Zobrist, who made $7.5 million in 2015, also played some right field and third base this season.
Zobrist hit .276/.359/.450 over 126 games for the Royals and Athletics last season, overcoming early knee surgery. He has a strong track record of getting on base and hit well throughout the Royals playoffs. The Royals and other teams have been linked to Zobrist so far this offseason.
>>> If all free agents do indeed leave the Nationals, the team is expected to clear over $61 million in payroll from last year’s franchise-record $165 million payroll. Rizzo said that arbitration raises for players will “chew up a big portion” of the money previously committed to free agents that will leave.
“Players are they progress in their careers are more expensive,” he said. “Arbitration will come into that. We’ll see where we’re at when we figure out what they’re going to be.”
The players, if they are kept, that could see the biggest arbitration raises are Drew Storen ($5.7 million in 2015), Stephen Strasburg ($7.4 million) and Wilson Ramos ($3.55 million).
>>> The Nationals didn’t extend a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span. Although he played well this season, he was severely limited by three surgeries to 61 games. Although Span’s agent, Scott Boras, is strongly against the qualifying offer system, the Nationals didn’t take the risk in offering the center fielder the one-year deal. They are expected to net draft picks when Zimmermann and Desmond reject their qualifying offers and sign elsewhere.
Boras had this to say when asked about Span not being offered the qualifying offer: “Every player enjoys his freedom. That’s for sure. Every club can bid on him and he gets a true free agent mark.”
And for those clamoring for a Span reunion, Rizzo indicated earlier Wednesday that the Nationals intend to use Taylor in center field in 2016 and were pleased with his performance this season when he was relied upon ahead of schedule because of Span’s injuries.