The Nationals have another day off next Monday, so if we didn’t get to your question today, perhaps we will then. In the meantime, thanks for reading.
Any acquisitions in August? Or is Rizzo content with what he’s got?
— Jonathan Feng, @jonfeng1
Are the Nats done acquiring relievers?
Jorge: Mike Rizzo is a general manager and it’s a general manager’s job to always seek ways to improve the team. People in that position are usually never content. Every stone is turned. With that in mind, there’s always a chance Rizzo bolsters his roster before the end of the season with a waiver trade — and specifically before Aug. 31, the deadline for acquisitions to be eligible for the postseason.
Rizzo has a recent history of acquiring relievers during August in playoff years. In 2014, the Nationals claimed left-hander Matt Thornton off waivers from the Yankees and assumed the roughly $1 million he was owed for the remainder of the season. The Nationals didn’t have to send a player to New York. Last year, Marc Rzepczynski, another left-hander, passed through waivers. The Nationals then acquired him from the Athletics in exchange for minor league infielder Max Schrock. Both Thornton and Rzepczynski were on Washington’s playoff roster.
This year, however, the Nationals bullpen is a bit crowded. In addition to the three relievers they added in July, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, and Enny Romero are on the disabled list. Each could pitch their way on to the playoff roster if they return healthy and effective. Then there are Sammy Solis, Oliver Perez, Matt Albers, Joe Blanton, and Matt Grace. Even Erick Fedde could find his way into the eight-man playoff bullpen in the role Reynaldo Lopez filled last year. The Nationals have choices.
Beyond the bullpen, there aren’t many, if any, holes on Washington’s roster — that’s if everyone who’s expected to return from injury returns. Which leads us to the latest injury to hit the Nationals this season: Bryce Harper’s bone bruise. The Nationals avoided the worst with Harper and are optimistic he’ll return this season. But what if that optimism is dashed? What if there’s a strong chance Harper isn’t returning? What’s out there?
Curtis Granderson is probably the best available in a shallow market. The New York Mets haven’t stopped cleaning house in August — they recently sent Jay Bruce and Neil Walker to playoff contenders — and Granderson could be next shipped off. The 36-year-old outfielder had a forgettable April but has a .962 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage with 16 home runs since May 3. He’s a left-handed bat, which would allow Washington to stay left-right-left-right in the middle of the order, and he could play right field.
Based on their recent activity, however, the Mets would likely demand the Nationals eat the remainder of Granderson’s salary. The Nationals, already over the collective-bargaining-tax threshold, might not be willing to add more. The Mets traded Bruce to the Cleveland Indians for a mediocre prospect after declining a Yankees offer with a better prospect package because the Yankees refused to take on Bruce’s salary.
Granderson, a free agent this winter, is making $15 million this season and is owed roughly $4 million over the remainder of the year. The Nationals would likely have to overwhelm them with a prospect or two to get New York to take on Granderson’s salary.
Of course, all that doesn’t matter if the team remains confident Harper will come back in time for the playoffs.
We have nothing to complain about! Okay … Name the playoff roster if everyone is back?
Chelsea: Wow, get you guys a reliever or two and all of a sudden you go soft! Just kidding. It is funny how much less angst fills my inbox in the Madson/Doolittle/Kintzler era. Obviously, the horrors of a temporary lineup in which Wilmer Difo sometimes hits second simply cannot be ignored (or so Twitter tells me), but other than that, things have been fairly chipper lately. So we look to October.
Jorge and I have started talking about this a lot lately, and I think I can speak for him when I say we both come to the same conclusion: you know what, these guys might look pretty darn good by then.
Start with the rotation. If Stephen Strasburg is okay — and Monday night’s five innings in Potomac will tell us a lot — then the rotation consists of Max Scherzer, Strasburg, new-and-improved Gio Gonzalez, and steadily settling Tanner Roark. Not bad, and better than last year — a year in which they came within about five outs of the NLCS. So that’s that.
Because they won’t need a fifth starter, the Nationals can carry an eight- or nine-man bullpen. That’s where the tough decisions will come.
Here are the names we know will be there: From the left side, Sean Doolittle, Perez, and probably Romero, who seems to be progressing from his forearm injury well. If Solis continues to look better, I would count him in, too. He’s back to throwing 96 with a biting breaking ball. They could use that.
From the right side, they’ll take Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and … ?
Matt Albers has been indispensable since the start of this season. It’s tough to see the Nationals not taking him, particularly since he proved he can handle the middle innings as well as he did the later ones. That’s no surprise.
But, taking Albers leaves one spot for a right-hander. If Kelley returns, can they leave him off? Joe Blanton seems likely to be an odd man out, but they’ve committed money to him and he’s been there before. If Glover returns from his shoulder injury, Dusty Baker loves him and seems likely to lobby to include him, too. So could Glover bump Kelley and Blanton? Is there a world in which Albers can’t make the playoff roster? Would Fedde be an option out of the bullpen? Could Tanner Roark move back there if the Nationals think they can get away with three starters in the division series? Questions abound, most of them likely to be answered by the relative health of those involved.
The position-playing roster feels easier to predict. Assuming health for Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner, the Game 1 starting lineup would likely go something like this:
Not bad. In that scenario, and if Stephen Drew returns from his abdominal injury (he’s been running but not doing much else), the Nationals bench would consist of Drew, Adam Lind, Howie Kendrick, Jose Lobaton and likely Wilmer Difo. Brian Goodwin could also make a push, particularly since none of those bench players can play center field in an emergency. Difo has emerged as a productive utility infielder, who can also be used as a pinch-runner late. That bench is deep, varied and experienced.
In short (or, perhaps, not so short), if everyone is healthy, the toughest decisions will come for the last spot on the bench and the last right-handed spot in the relief corps. “If everyone is healthy” has been a significant caveat this year. They have about seven weeks to get there.
How is Brian Goodwin? Even if Werth rehabs, who should play left field?
— Lisa Schoenthaler, @lshoenthaler1
Saw Werth running in the outfield between games yesterday. How long before his return?
Jorge: There’s no reason to believe Werth won’t be the Nationals’ starting left fielder when he returns, which could be by the end of the month. Last week, Werth faced Strasburg in a simulated game at Nationals Park and later said he was a week or two away from rehab games. Running on the fractured left foot is what has held Werth back — he’s been hitting for weeks — but he seems to have made significant progress over the past week, which Mr. Mitten witnessed this weekend.
As one of the team’s clubhouse leaders, Werth’s impact goes beyond on-field production, but he was enjoying a good season before fouling a pitch off his left foot on June 3. The 38-year-old, who has eight home runs and a .814 OPS, settled back into the two-hole following Adam Eaton’s injury and will probably be inserted back in there when he returns. And it would just be strange not to have Werth, such a beloved and important person in the Nationals’ short history, out there in what could be his final couple months in a Nationals uniform.
Until Werth returns, the Nationals will probably continue platooning Kendrick and Lind in left field — Kendrick against lefties and Lind against righties. The more pertinent question might be who’s playing right field without Harper around. Brian Goodwin was the logical choice and he got the start there in Game 1 on Sunday, but then he exited with groin tightness. Between games, Manager Dusty Baker said the training staff was going to evaluate him.
If Goodwin requires a stint on the disabled list, Andrew Stevenson, who started in right field in Sunday’s nightcap, is next on the depth chart. Perhaps the team reinstates Ryan Raburn, but he’s been on the DL with a trapezius strain since July 26, hasn’t played since July 23 and hasn’t gone on a rehab assignment, which may be required after missing that much time.
Any whispers about an extension for Dusty? And Rendon?
Chelsea: I honestly have not heard anything about progress on an extension for Dusty since he made known his desire to keep managing beyond this year. That’s not surprising, and it also doesn’t mean nothing is happening there. I would be surprised if something happens before the playoffs. The Lerner family just doesn’t seem comfortable with extensions and doesn’t seem likely to dole out a raise just because Dusty suggested he deserves it. But what I have heard throughout this season is that if Dusty wants to keep managing and his health allows it, no one in the Nationals organization sees any reason that wouldn’t happen.
Is it a clunky way to handle his contract? Sure. Does it seem a little … uncomfortable … not to just extend the guy when he’s done nothing but win here? Yes. But if Dusty is disappointed that he doesn’t have a deal for next year, he hasn’t shown it in his day-to-day, and I wouldn’t expect him to. Nobody likes a managerial search, and I don’t see the Nationals putting themselves through one for no reason. But they have a history of going year-to-year with manager deals, and it seems that’ll happen again.
I check on Rendon periodically, and always have been told the Nationals view him as something of an injury risk internally. That does not mean they will not extend him at some point. It does mean they haven’t been willing to bet on him yet, and that the kind of money Scott Boras would ask for — Boras, by the way, argued for Rendon as a first-half MVP candidate — might not be comfortable for them. But after the kind of season he is having, and the durability (knock on wood) he has shown for the past two seasons, perhaps they will change their minds. If Harper is gone and Daniel Murphy goes after next season, too, they’ll need a big bat in the middle of the order. He has become a reliable one — so reliable that Boras’s argument didn’t actually seem so crazy really.
In other words, the Nationals have always seen Rendon as an injury risk. Strasburg is an injury risk and they extended him, too. Perhaps this year will change their minds on Rendon. I wouldn’t rule that out. As of now, I haven’t heard of anything substantial happening on that front. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.