The general manager meetings begin in Orlando this week, and the normally laid-back gathering promises more work than normal for Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. He, along with Royals GM Dayton Moore, came up in the annual rotation to plan these meetings, which last until Thursday and include three front office members (and no more) from each major league team. But outside of his organizational duties, Rizzo and his colleagues likely will have plenty of baseball-related work to do.
Generally speaking, the GM meetings are a place for club officials to lay foundations for future deals and to get a sense of needs and availability. Last year, the Nationals didn’t make any deals at the GM meetings, but Rizzo and White Sox GM Rick Hahn did have preliminary conversations about the Adam Eaton deal they consummated at the winter meetings. This year’s winter meetings also will be held here in a month, by which time most teams will have filled coaching and management openings. At that time, deals likely will come quickly and frequently.
Exactly how many of those deals the Nationals will make remains to be seen. Their plan for this offseason was overshadowed by the managerial search that consumed the first weeks since their loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. They crossed the luxury tax threshold for the first time in 2017, which could affect their willingness to spend this winter. Their starting lineup from last season is largely intact, absent Jayson Werth, though they have Eaton to slide into his place alongside Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper. Victor Robles is waiting in the wings, creating an outfield surplus from which they potentially could deal.
Rizzo and his staff must decide how to handle their catching situation, which is complicated by the $10.5 million they have committed to Matt Wieters despite his tough year in 2017. Perhaps they will decide Pedro Severino is an acceptable backup. Perhaps they will decide he isn’t, and choose a veteran who could split time to spell Wieters. Perhaps a trade for a full-fledged starter could be an option.
They also must decide how to handle their bullpen and rotation. The former needs bolstering. The latter could use some, too. When it comes to starting pitching, Rizzo often has made offseason splashes before his team has a glaring need, and this offseason brings those exact circumstances. When it comes to the bullpen, he is generally more patient, and already has Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle etched in the back end of the bullpen — an uncommonly comfortable state of bullpen affairs for this team, which is generally scrambling for ninth-inning help. Perhaps they will decide to pursue some anyway, but exactly what help is available and at what price likely will become more clear this week.
These could be Rizzo’s final GM meetings as the head of the Nationals, as his contract expires after the 2018 season. While that situation likely will not be resolved soon — the Nationals are not known for the swift handling of such contracts — Rizzo’s status will hover over this offseason and next season, as a reminder of the uncertainty facing this franchise after 2018.
Crazed as it has been, given Dusty Baker’s departure and the aftermath, this offseason represents some kind of calm before next winter’s offseason storm, when Harper, Daniel Murphy, Rizzo and others face decisions about their future. This week, Rizzo and his staff can begin tinkering with a well-built roster that doesn’t need an overhaul. But big changes are coming, a month from now at the winter meetings, and a year from now as well. All could be influenced by conversations had over the next few days in muggy Orlando.