Though the past four days here were hardly frantic, and did not include the signings of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, they included little sleep, countless conversations and endless posturing. By the time Nationals director of player development Mark Scialabba and coordinator of baseball operations John Wulf took their seats Thursday morning, they and their front office colleagues had discussed several deals and made one of them — the trade of Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds for Tanner Rainey, a hard-throwing reliever. But that deal only confirmed the notion that their work was not done. Now, the Nationals need another starter or two.
People familiar with their plans said they tried to find that starter in veteran Lance Lynn, but their unwillingness to give him a third year pushed Lynn to take his three-year deal with the Texas Rangers on Wednesday. The Nationals will now hunt those starters on the periphery of the free agent market. Veterans Wade Miley and Anibal Sanchez, who could come at a lower combined cost than the $10 million Roark would have earned in arbitration, are among their targets.
But the Nationals have more work to do. They will monitor the relief market, likely for a left-handed arm to improve depth. They are hunting for a second baseman, though a person familiar with their plans said the prize of that free agent market — D.J. LeMahieu — will likely be too expensive. Veterans Josh Harrison, Brian Dozier and Jed Lowrie are all available, and would likely require less financial commitment and shorter deals. With infield prospects Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia charging through the system, the Nationals do not necessarily need a long-term solution at second. But they do need an established starter now, when Howie Kendrick is still coming back from injury and Wilmer Difo has not established himself as a reliable offensive producer.
And the bench still needs to be filled out. The Nationals need their annual left-handed-hitting backup to Ryan Zimmerman at first base, though General Manager Mike Rizzo has indicated Washington might try to find a more versatile option in that role — perhaps someone that can play first base and elsewhere. The team could probably use some right-handed power off the bench, a fifth outfielder to compliment their existing quartet of Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor. Obviously, those plans assume the Nationals will not re-sign Harper. As of right now, they seem to be operating on that assumption.
Because for all the posturing on both sides, for all the talk of Washington keeping the door open on Harper, or not closing the door on Harper, or whatever the message of the minute may be, these winter meetings did not provide the drama they promised for so long. Instead of making statements about moving on without Harper or moving on with him, the Nationals' final winter meetings salvo came from Wulf, who stepped to the mic and announced their selection of minor league outfielder Chuck Taylor in the Rule 5 draft. The Nationals might not have many big announcements left to make. But they have plenty of work ahead in the next few months, before the lights grow bright again.