They’ve already signed the frontline starter they’ve coveted for a long time. They’ve upgraded the catching position with not one but two veteran additions. They’ve added two experienced late-inning relievers.
And they’ve done all this before departing for the Winter Meetings. Which begs the question: Do the Nationals even need to go to Las Vegas this week?
“You know I love the Winter Meetings,” general manager Mike Rizzo said dismissively when asked the aforementioned question Friday during the Nats’ press conference to introduce Patrick Corbin.
Indeed he does. Rizzo has been attending the Winter Meetings for decades, the most recent one as the Nationals’ GM, and he lives for the event. It’s his chance not only to make changes to his roster but simply to be around every other prominent baseball person and share stories and opinions with all of them.So Rizzo doesn’t need to be forced to get on the plane in D.C. today and head west for four days of baseball chaos at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
That said, there doesn’t appear to be nearly as much on his agenda now as everyone thought there’d be at the start of the offseason.
The Nationals have been as aggressive, if not more so, as any club in the majors so far this winter. They identified three particular areas of need - rotation, catcher, bullpen - and already made significant moves to address them.
Last week’s signing of Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract was the biggest move to date, and it gave the Nats a top-flight No. 3 starter to pitch alongside Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, something this team had been seeking for some time. But the moves that preceded it were significant in their own right.
The back-to-back additions of Kurt Suzuki (signed as a free agent) and Yan Gomes (traded from the Indians) overhauled what had been one of the least-productive catching positions in baseball the last two seasons.
And the acquisitions of Trevor Rosenthal (free agent) and Kyle Barraclough (traded from the Marlins) brought two experienced, late-inning relievers to Washington and accounted for the previous losses of Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler.
The Nationals do still have a few remaining needs. They’re currently participating in their annual search for a left-handed, backup first baseman. They could seek an upgrade at second base, most likely a short-term solution while prospect Carter Kieboom climbs the organizational ladder. They might want an experienced lefty for their bullpen. They also might try to round out their rotation with another veteran starter.
But most of the Nationals’ opening day roster already appears to be in place, not a bad achievement one week into December.
“You know, we feel good about the team we have in place right now,” Rizzo said. “The roster, I think, is constructed in a good, coherent manner. I think we have a lot of strengths and a lot of flexibility that we didn’t have last year. We’ve got players with options. That’s important for us. But you never say you’re done. If there’s a deal or a free agent that makes sense to us, that helps us become better, we’ve always been aggressive. We’ve always had the resources to do those type of things. I don’t consider us done at all. We’re never done.”
There is still, of course, one major storyline to these Winter Meetings, the one everyone has anticipated for years. Bryce Harper is finally a free agent, and he just so happens to live in Las Vegas as the baseball world gathers in his hometown.
The Nationals’ part in this saga may not be as prominent as many hoped all along, with managing principal owner Mark Lerner suggesting in two separate interviews Friday that he expects Harper to sign elsewhere after turning down their end-of-season, $300 million offer. That’s not to say agent Scott Boras won’t circle back to the Nats before this is all said and done, but the attention this week almost certainly will be on other teams in the sweepstakes.
Though Harper is in Las Vegas, he’s not expected to actually appear at Mandalay Bay (not unless there’s an official press conference to announce his signing). The 26-year-old outfielder and Boras are expected to meet with clubs somewhere off-site, out of the spotlight, but make no mistake: His presence will dominate this event.