They held another parade in Houston on Monday, while some 1,400 miles away in Las Vegas the annual General Managers Meetings commenced. Both events signified the same truth: The offseason has begun.
For most organizations, the season ended a month ago. The Nationals certainly fall into that category, having come nowhere close to competing for one of the 12 spots that was available in a newly expanded postseason field. They spent October watching others compete, while simultaneously self-evaluating the worst season in club history and prepping for what’s to come this winter.
What is to come? We don’t really know at this point, because of all the questions that need to be answered, the biggest of all remains very much unanswered: When will the Nationals be sold?
Despite initial suggestions (or hopes) the process would be completed this fall, it doesn’t appear from the outside as if enough progress has made to meet that timeline. It’s certainly possible there’s more going on behind the scenes than we realize. But most members of the organization are prepared for this to be dragged out a while longer, maybe even into the start of the 2023 season.
So where does that leave the Nats when it comes to formulating an offseason plan of attack? General manager Mike Rizzo said at season’s end he would be getting “parameters” from ownership that would go a long way toward determining his approach. For now, those parameters may not offer him much ability to spend much on free agents, unless the sale of the club really is possible before New Year’s.
“Of course it could change if they sell the team. I think that would change,” Rizzo said Oct. 4. “I’m going to control what I can control. We’re in business as usual. We’re going to go through the end of the regular season and do our postseason work and try to explore every way to get better. We’ll get our marching orders and our direction from above when we get them. We’ll employ those directions. But until then, it’s business as usual, like we’ve done every year.”
It’s not necessarily like every year, though. The Nationals operated very differently after the 2012-20 seasons than they did after the 2021 season. And given the current state of affairs, there’s reason to believe this offseason is more likely to resemble the last one than all those previous ones.
In other words, look for Rizzo to try to improve his roster with short-term fixes, not long-term commitments. Maybe an experienced starter to help churn out innings for what was the majors’ worst rotation. Maybe a middle-of-the-order bat who could play a corner outfield position. Maybe a veteran reliever or two who could bolster what already looks like a fairly deep bullpen.
That was the approach last winter, though the results weren’t great. Nelson Cruz, César Hernández and Alcides Escobar were busts. Steve Cishek was OK at times, but not good enough to be flipped at the trade deadline. Sean Doolittle and Ehire Adrianza suffered early injuries.
Rizzo’s best success came on minor league deals offered to the likes of Erasmo Ramirez, Carl Edwards Jr. and Aníbal Sánchez, plus spring training waiver pickup Hunter Harvey. So, don’t be surprised to see a lot more of those kinds of deals as the offseason plays out.
Other notable dates and events to come in the weeks and months ahead:
Nov. 15: All teams must add players to their 40-man roster to protect them from being lost in the Rule 5 draft.
Nov. 18: Arbitration-eligible players must be tendered a contract offer or be released.
Dec. 4-7: MLB’s Winter Meetings return after they were canceled in both 2020 (pandemic) and 2021 (lockout). This year’s event includes the sport’s first draft lottery (with the Nats set to find out if they’ll have anything from the first to the seventh pick) and the Rule 5 draft (in which the Nats have the first selection).