LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mike Rizzo didn’t divulge any juicy developments to the ravenous horde of media members crowding the Washington Nationals’ suite at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort on Monday afternoon. He arrived at the winter meetings just 90 minutes earlier. He had time to settle into his club’s headquarters and not much else.
“Getting here was my biggest activity today,” the Nationals general manager said as assistant general manager Bob Miller and Manager Dave Martinez sat at a table a few feet away.
Rizzo said team officials were slated to meet after he addressed the media. Appointments, presumably with agents and other clubs, were scheduled for after that. On the Nationals’ agenda: acquiring bench pieces, right-handed relievers and starting pitching depth. Not on the Nationals’ agenda, at least according to Rizzo: acquiring a catcher to supplant Matt Wieters, prioritizing a middle infielder with everyday experience to fill in if Daniel Murphy misses time after October microfracture knee surgery or making any sort of a splash.
We’ll “just kind of do our stuff on the periphery of the roster,” Rizzo said.
The modest plan, Rizzo insisted, is not a product of any financial constraints from ownership even after the Nationals crossed the competitive tax threshold for the first time last season and are not far from doing so again for 2018.
“There’s no hindrance of us improving our club in any way we think possible,” Rizzo said. “Obviously, we’re going to be prudent about what we spend and who we spend it on. We haven’t had a mandate to spend under a certain number and we don’t going into this season.”
One area in which the Nationals are certain to spend is the right-handed reliever sweepstakes, which has been the liveliest slice of the market. The Nationals currently have Ryan Madson, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Wander Suero and Austin Adams on their 40-man roster, but Madson is considered the only reliable right-handed relief option of the bunch.
Brandon Morrow, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are among the righties that have secured multiyear contracts. More are expected to find homes in the next couple days.
Washington has expressed interest in re-signing Brandon Kintzler, who is drawing interest from a variety of other clubs, although none have made offers, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. They also checked in on Hector Rondon when he wasn’t tendered a contract by the Cubs earlier in the month and have asked about Addison Reed, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Matt Albers would like to return but the Nationals haven’t indicated a desire to bring him back, though that could always change.
Greg Holland and Wade Davis, considered the two best right-handed relievers, are also still available. They would come at steeper prices as proven closers, but would give the Nationals a formidable three-headed relief monster comparable with other contending clubs’ threesomes.
“We’re going to look for the best value we can get,” Rizzo said. “We’ll identify guys that we like and if we can get a value that we think fits for our club.”
As for the starting rotation, Rizzo emphasized he has confidence in his internal options for the fifth spot, which will be vacant for at least a good chunk of the season as Joe Ross recovers from Tommy John surgery. Those options are Erick Fedde, who finished his season on the disabled list, and A.J. Cole, who finished his season with his best stretch as a big leaguer.
“A.J. Cole threw the ball extremely well in his last seven starts last year,” Rizzo said. “Stuff was good. It upticked at the end of the season and, of course, we love Fedde. He’ll be healthy and have some major league time under his belt so we feel good with where we’re at. What we need to look for is depth because it’s a long season and very few seasons you go through with five starters.”
But Rizzo doesn’t have an extensive history of adding mediocre starters merely for rotation depth. He tends to aim higher, and the possibilities include Jake Arrieta in free agency and Gerrit Cole via trade.
Behind the plate, Rizzo said he views Wieters, who was one of the worst everyday players in baseball last season, as a “bounce-back candidate.” He confirmed the Nationals plan to have him play fewer games. Pedro Severino will pick up the slack as the backup.
But everything is subject to change. Rizzo and the Nationals were just settling in for what should be a hectic week across the sport.
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