Nats trying to balance adding to roster without blocking top prospects

NASHVILLE – The Nationals found themselves in a tricky situation as they arrived at the Gaylord Opryland Resort for this year’s Winter Meetings.

After a 16-win improvement from last year, the team is looking to take another significant step toward competing in 2024. In order to do that, they need to fill some holes on their roster, especially in the power department.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us this year, and I think we’re going to take our aggressive approach when it suits us and wait for the market when it suits us,” said general manager Mike Rizzo on Monday. “I think we’re going to be busy here. We’ve already been semi-busy since we got here, and I think it’s going to be a busy time.”

But with one of the best farm systems in baseball, they know they also have some top prospects coming to the major leagues soon.

How, then, do Rizzo and Co. improve the current roster at first base/designated hitter, third base and the outfield at a low cost that won’t be an issue once one or more of the aforementioned top prospects are deemed ready for the big leagues?

“We’re not going to block guys,” he said. “But if we’re fortunate enough that we have this influx of guys knocking on the big league door, then that’ll be a good day for us here. Players, they tell me when they’re ready by their play on the field. We’ve never had a problem with moving players quickly to the big leagues if they can perform up there. And we’ll have no qualms about putting them there now.”

A top-tier position player will cost a lot of dollars over many years. That’s not what the Nationals are looking for at the moment. A middle-of-the-pack player might be more in the Nats’ price range but would still likely need a multi-year deal, which could lead to a roster crunch down the line. And a low-level player would be significantly cheaper, and probably ideal for the club, but would such a player really be that much of an upgrade from what the Nats already have?

“We do have some young players that are coming that I think will supply some power as well,” manager Davey 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 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.”

“Our goal is never to win 71 games,” Rizzo said. “Our goal is to win a division, to win a world championship. And I feel that we took a step in the right direction last year toward doing that. We’re going to try and facilitate another roster that allows us to take another step forward and get into the action with a terrific division that we have to deal with. We understand the challenges in front of us, and I think we’re a capable group. You’ve seen in the past what we’ve done, and I think that we’re going to be able to do it in the future.”

In the future, the Nats will rely on the likes of James Wood, Dylan Crews and Brady House to add power to their lineup. Wood led the Nats system with 26 homers this year. Crews was the top-rated position player in this year’s draft as a plus-plus hitter with plus power after hitting 18 homers in 71 games at LSU. And House has plus raw power as the top-rated high school bat of his 2021 draft class.

“Power’s a way of scoring runs and winning games,” Rizzo said. “We think in the minor leagues we’re developing it. We’ve got several players that we feel like fit that description.”

The key for Rizzo this offseason is adding power on short-term deals at little cost so those positions will be available for their top prospects once they have developed.

“You either have to develop it or go find it and pay for it,” he said.

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