There’s a general blueprint for bench construction. The group must have every position covered. A mix of lefties and righties is preferred. Then there’s the need for some speed.
“We have to get the right mixture, the right skill set, but also the right character and the right attitude that accepts the job and really wants to do the job so it’s a delicate balance,” Rizzo said Monday at the Winter Meetings. “We’re talking with Davey [Martinez] about what he likes and how he wants to run a game and that will also go into our decision-making process in who we get the kind of person we get.”
Four veterans who served as bench pieces for at least a portion of the season — Lind, Kendrick, Stephen Drew and Jose Lobaton — are free agents. Drew missed most of the season with injuries and isn’t coming back. Lobaton was one of the worst players in baseball and he’s gone, too. A Kendrick return isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The Nationals could have kept Lind, who mashed right-handed pitching and was perhaps the best pinch-hitter in baseball last season, for $5 million, but the team declined his mutual option.
“We felt that at $5 million we’ll get a capable bat or less,” Rizzo said. “And it doesn’t preclude us from going after Adam Lind himself.”
The fact is there are Lind types — first basemen with pop — out there and the market for that kind of player at a time when home runs are at an all-time high doesn’t percolate like it once did. A fitting example: The Nationals waited until February to sign Lind, who was coming off a down year, for $1 million. He ended up batting .303 with 14 home runs and an .875 OPS while playing more left field than anyone expected.
The Nationals, as expected, seem to be in hunt for a backup first baseman who fits the mold and have expressed some interest in Matt Adams, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Adams, 29, batted .274 with 20 home runs and a .841 OPS in 131 games for the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. He’s a left-handed thumper who played some outfield for the first time last season. The question is whether he’d settle for a backup role. The market will dictate that. Lucas Duda, who collected 28 homers last season, also fits the profile.
As for the rest of the bench, Pedro Severino is currently projected as the backup catcher. Goodwin will take over as the fourth outfielder for Taylor, who’s slated to start in center field. Difo’s role will eventually be super utility man, but he’ll be needed to start at second base if Daniel Murphy isn’t cleared in time after undergoing microfracture surgery in late October. Rizzo said he doesn’t plan to pursue an established middle infielder with everyday experience to fill in for Murphy. The job would be Difo’s.
“He brings a lot to the table as far as giving Davey versatility and speed,” Rizzo said. “Switch hit. Played great defense at shortstop and second base. Played third base and we can throw him in the outfield. So he gives us versatility. Gives us a great talent base and he showed last year that he can play for extended periods of time. He’s a really good young player that probably deserves to have more time.”