NASHVILLE – Teams arrived at the Gaylord Opryland Resort with their wish lists as they prepare to construct their rosters for next season. Whether through trades or free agency, each major league club has holes to fill.
When speaking to the media during baseball’s biggest offseason event, general managers usually mention what they’re looking to add. Managers discuss what they already have on the roster and what they wish they did.
Davey Martinez touched on all of the above when speaking to a group of local media members on Monday afternoon for his only scheduled session this week.
It’s no secret the Nats are looking to add more power to their lineup next season after hitting a league-worst 151 home runs, second only to the Guardians for the fewest in the majors. Martinez believes it can come from both within and outside the organization.
“I think it's going to be both. I really do,” the skipper said. “As you can see, some of our young players started getting it towards the end there. I think there's still a lot more out of CJ (Abrams), out of Keibert (Ruiz) and some of our younger guys.”
The Nationals would really like to get more power from Joey Meneses, who after taking the baseball world by storm by hitting 13 home runs over his first 56 games as a 30-year-old rookie in 2022 only hit 13 homers in 154 games last year.
Martinez revealed Meneses dealt with a knee injury all season, which is believed to be patellar tendinitis suffered while playing winter ball last year and a reason his power numbers dropped so drastically. Now that he’s fully healthy, the Nats envision Meneses playing more first base to go along with his designated hitter duties.
“I want to see him do a little bit of both, I really do,” Martinez said. “I want to see him play some more first base. We are pretty good about masking his ... he had a knee issue so we wanted to keep him healthy. The biggest thing was to keep him on the field, keep him hitting.”
Sure enough, when Meneses was on the field more, his offensive numbers improved. Although in a significantly smaller sample size, he slashed .333/.372/.630 with a 1.002 OPS, 12 doubles, four home runs and 20 RBIs in 86 plate appearances over 19 games at first base. While acting as the DH in 131 games, he hit .265/.313/.361 with a .674 OPS, 24 doubles, one triple, eight homers and 65 RBIs.
“Hopefully this year he comes ready to go. I know he's doing a lot of agility stuff, he looks good so far. … And he even mentioned to me about playing some outfield too as well. He loves playing left field. So we'll see what kind of shape he comes into spring training, and then we'll go from there.”
There may not be a lot of outfield reps to give Meneses, however. With Lane Thomas solidified in right field, the Nationals are expected to have a logjam of young outfield prospects knocking on the door at some point this season, with Dylan Crews, James Wood and Robert Hassell III among the top prospects nearing their major league debuts.
“We do have some young players that are coming that I think will supply some power as well,” Martinez said. “I think this winter we're going to look elsewhere too to see if we can maybe fill some gaps that we need to fill. We're in a tough situation because we want to bring ... we want to get our young guys up here and we don't want to take too many spots away from those guys when they're ready, but yet we got to compete at the big league level.
“So we'll look at all avenues and all aspects and see what we can do.”
Across the diamond, the Nationals also believe they have an opening at third base. Ildemaro Vargas will be back in a utility backup role after agreeing to terms on a 2024 contract before the end of the season. Carter Kieboom played a lot at the hot corner down the stretch of the season, but even though he’s currently playing well in winter ball, the team is open to adding a third baseman this winter.
“We also got an opening at third base,” Martinez said. “Kieboom has done well so far in winter ball. So we're going to keep an eye on that. But there's always room for improvement, as we all know.”
Along with Kieboom in winter ball is Victor Robles, who was limited to just 36 games with a back injury after a strong start to the season. Robles was, in fact, cleared to start playing winter ball today and could play in his first game as early as tonight, per general manager Mike Rizzo.
“He's feeling a lot better,” Martinez said. “I know he's taking some swings. But I think he definitely wants to play some games before he gets to spring training.”
The Nationals declined their $3.3 million option on Robles for 2024, but they still retain the center fielder’s rights. The team and Robles avoided arbitration by coming to terms on a salary for next season.
But this will likely be Robles’ last shot to stick with the Nats as the young group of outfielders will be on the horizon.
“It's all going to depend on his health,” Martinez said. “I'm glad that he'll be back. We definitely could use him.”
But Robles’ situation is a problem for later. For this week, the Nationals are focused on filling out their lineup by adding more power at first base/designated hitter, third base or left field. And if Martinez had his choice, it would be a left-handed outfielder.
“I would like to get a left-handed hitting outfielder,” he said. “I'll take anyone, but to have an outfielder would be great.”
The Nationals won’t be one of the big spenders this week, but they are not just letting the rest of the baseball world pass them by. A 16-win improvement to 71 victories last year was encouraging, and they want to take another step forward.
“Riz does not like losing. I do not like losing,” Martinez said. “So we're going to do the best we can to fill a competitive team.”