Officials from baseball’s 30 front offices fled Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Thursday, congregating throughout the afternoon at Orlando International Airport to catch flights back home from the Winter Meetings. Most of the Washington Nationals’ contingent, including General Manager Mike Rizzo, had already left for the District, where the club will host its annual Winterfest this weekend. A few officials stayed behind for the morning’s Rule 5 Draft.
The Nationals’ representatives were bleary-eyed. Hours earlier, in the wee hours of the morning, the Nationals hammered out a two-year contract with Brandon Kintzler in their suite at the Swan and Dolphin. The Nationals want right-handed relievers. They retained one with whom they are familiar. It was a frenetic conclusion to an otherwise tranquil week.
Kintzler’s signing is the Nationals’ only major-league roster addition this offseason. They have been operating far from the spotlight in a market that had been slow-moving until a spurt of action surfaced Friday, highlighted by the Philadelphia Phillies signing of Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal. The dam finally burst and the Nationals will eventually dip into the rushing waters. They still want to bolster their right-handed relief corps, need to figure out who will assume the vacancy in their starting rotation, and are said to be in the market for a catcher.
The Nationals were poised to add another right-handed reliever Friday, but Hector Róndon chose the Houston Astros over them and the Tampa Bay Rays, according to a person familiar with the situation. Róndon agreed to a two-year deal that was roughly the same as the Nationals’ and Rays’ offers. Róndon is the latest on a long list of right-handed relievers to come off the board. Of the 23 free agents to officially sign major-league deals as of early Friday afternoon, 12 are right-handed relievers.
Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the top two free-agent closers, are still available. The Nationals have been interested in both in the past and are particularly keen on Davis this time around. Davis, 32, has been one of baseball’s most dominant relievers since moving to the bullpen in 2014 and posted a 2.30 ERA in 58 2/3 innings for the Cubs last season.
The Nationals have some inside information on Davis with new Manager Dave Martinez and bullpen coach Henry Blanco, both of whom spent last season with him in Chicago. Davis’s addition would probably push Sean Doolittle down to a set-up role alongside Ryan Madson and Kintzler. That quartet would give the Nationals a bullpen comparable to baseball’s best. Among players available in the next tier, the Nationals are known to have inquired about Addison Reed, a 28-year-old who had a 2.84 ERA in 76 innings between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox.
In the catching department, Rizzo said he’s “cool with” Pedro Severino partnering with Matt Wieters, but the Nationals have discussed signing Alex Avila, who finished the 2017 season as the Cubs’ backup. Avila, 30, has publicly said he is willing to take a backup role, but the Nationals’ plan to play Wieters less in 2018 would give him ample playing time. Geovany Soto, Rene Rivera, Nick Hundley, A.J. Ellis and Miguel Montero, who Rizzo once signed when employed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, are also free agents.
As for starting pitching, the Nationals and Jake Arrieta, to nobody’s surprise, have been connected. Arrieta is a Scott Boras client, and the mega-agent, who represents a significant portion of Washington’s roster, met with Rizzo and Nationals ownership in Palm Springs, Calif. last month.
During his annual Winter Meetings media address Wednesday, Boras advertised Arrieta with his postseason experience and relatively light mileage – 1,161 major-league regular season innings – on his soon-to-be 32-year-old arm. He compared Arrieta’s résumé as a free agent to Max Scherzer’s, whom the Nationals gave a $210 million contract three offseasons ago when he was entering his age-30 season with 1,239 1/3 major-league regular season innings on his odometer.
But the Nationals seem likely to exhaust cheaper options before seriously engaging Boras on Arrieta. Not only would Arrieta’s contract be expensive, he was offered a qualifying offer by the Cubs, which means the Nationals would forfeit their second- and fifth-highest picks in the upcoming draft plus $1 million in international bonus pool money because they eclipsed the competitive balance tax threshold last season. The price is stiff.
Instead, a trade for a No. 3 starter seems likelier. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, and Jake Odorizzi are all reportedly available. Then again, Nationals ownership’s relationship with Boras – and history of working directly with him – suggests Arrieta will remain a possibility for Washington until he is off the board.
That could come much later in the offseason. For example, Wieters, another Boras client, signed with the Nationals after the team reported for spring training in February. But the Nationals will be active before then. The Winter Meetings are over, but the offseason frenzy is just getting started.
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