Nashville has been part of the Winter Meetings’ regular rotation for some time now, having hosted the event seven times since 1983, not to mention three times in a nine-year span from 2007-15. So the cavernous Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center will be familiar territory for just about everyone who gathers there later today for the start of this year’s Winter Meetings.
That includes Mike Rizzo, who attends his fourth Nashville Winter Meetings as a member of the Nationals front office, his third as general manager. The situation this time, though, is different from those previous ones.
In December 2012 and 2015, the Nats were full-blown contenders, desperate to find a way to get over their postseason humps. So Rizzo was front-and-center each time, signing Dan Haren in 2012 and a trio of relievers (Shawn Kelley, Oliver Pérez and Yusmeiro Petit) in 2015.
Nationals managers also were the center of attention at each of those meetings, with Davey Johnson in 2012 declaring the goal was “World Series or bust” and recently hired Dusty Baker drawing a huge crowd for his media session in 2015.
What will this week have in store? Well, probably nothing like any of that. Unless Rizzo or Davey Martinez has a surprise up his sleeve.
The Nationals remain in rebuild mode, though in a seemingly much better position now than they were a year ago. They are not, however, in contention mode yet. They aren’t looking for the final piece to a star-studded rotation like they were in 2012, and they aren’t so stacked they need only fortify their bullpen with veteran free agents, like they were in 2015.
Rizzo does have work to do, though. And this week could provide an opportunity to start making some progress in that direction.
As was the case last winter, the Nats need a first baseman (or designated hitter), a left fielder and probably a third baseman. As was the case last winter, they’d like to add a veteran starter to the back of their rotation. And as was the case last winter, they’re in the kind of position that suggests they’ll take a flier on an unprotected prospect in Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft.
Whether they actually complete any of those tasks while in Nashville remains to be seen. A year ago, they had already signed Jeimer Candelario a few days before arriving in San Diego, then signed Trevor Williams a couple days after returning home. Dominic Smith and Corey Dickerson weren’t added until January, making Rule 5 draftee Thaddeus Ward the only major league acquisition of the meetings.
Even if they don’t make news by acquiring players of consequence, the Nationals will still make some kind of news this week, whether directly or indirectly.
Tonight they’ll find out if Johnson was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Era Committee. The man who managed four different franchises (including the Nats) to the postseason is one of eight men up for consideration by that select group of voters, joined by fellow managers Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland and Cito Gaston; executives Bill White and Hank Peters; and umpires Joe West and Ed Montague.
If elected, Johnson would become only the second person with a Hall of Fame plaque that includes “Washington, N.L.” on it, following in the footsteps of Ivan Rodriguez, who was elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 2017.
We’ll also be hearing for the first time this offseason from Martinez (who is scheduled to speak to reporters Monday afternoon) and Rizzo (scheduled to speak Monday and Tuesday), as well as several of the organization’s recent front-office hires.
Tuesday night brings the second incarnation of the Draft Lottery, an event that was far more dramatic from the Nationals’ perspective last year (when they lost out to the Pirates for the No. 1 pick) than it will be this year, for complicated reasons. Even though they finished with the majors’ fifth-worst record, the Nats cannot pick better than 10th this time because clubs that give (as opposed to receive) revenue sharing dollars aren’t allowed to be in the lottery in consecutive years.
Argue over the fairness of that all you want. Just know the Nationals are virtually locked into the No. 10 pick, with a miniscule chance they could fall even lower if somehow all of the four worst teams (Athletics, Royals, Rockies, White Sox) lose the lottery.
At least they still get to pick fifth in Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft. It’s the little things, you know.