With "payroll clarity," Nats now focus on starter, left-handed bat

SAN DIEGO – As he watches the rest of the baseball world spend hundreds of millions of dollars on top free agents, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says he has at least been told by ownership how much he can spend to address his club’s roster needs on the heels of a 107-loss season.

That, in itself, is a significant development, given the uncertainty surrounding the organization as the Lerner family continues to try to sell the franchise.

“Yeah, we’ve got payroll clarity, and we’re marching ahead with our blueprint and our plan for this offseason,” Rizzo said today in his first session of the Winter Meetings with reporters. “I think we’ve scheduled a lot of things we’re trying to get done here. Hopefully we can do something here, or shortly thereafter, to improve our club.”

Though Rizzo didn’t specify how large (or small) that budget is, the types of additions he mentioned suggest they are likely to be short-term moves for moderately priced veterans. He certainly wasn’t in the market for Trea Turner, the free agent shortstop who today agreed to a reported 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies, becoming the latest former Nationals star to sign a monster contract with a division rival.

“I’m happy for Trea,” Rizzo said. “I’m glad he got paid a lot of money. He’s a winner.”

The Nats’ top priorities this winter, as both Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez outlined, are to add an experienced and ideally durable starter to what was the majors’ worst rotation last season, plus another middle-of-the-order bat to account for the departures of Luke Voit and Nelson Cruz.

A starting pitcher appears to be priority No. 1. Though club officials like the long-term prospects of a rotation headlined by MacKenzie Gore, Cade Cavalli and Josiah Gray, they know none of those three young pitchers is a sure thing yet. And with Patrick Corbin coming off three successive substandard seasons, there is a real need for a reliable and durable starter.

“Look, as you know we’ve got some starters already in our rotation,” Martinez said. “But we don’t feel like we have enough. As the season goes along, things happen. We do need – especially if we can get another veteran starter, it will be great – one or two. I talked to Rizz about it, and as you guys know, I truly believe in starting pitching. That’s what we’re looking to do right now.”

The price tag for starting pitching is never cheap, and that hasn’t changed this winter. Veteran free agents with pedestrian records are commanding $10 million a year.

It remains to be seen if the Nationals are in a position to sign someone at that rate, but it’s clear they want someone they are confident is good for 30-plus starts in 2023.

“If you’re making 30 starts, you’ve had a pretty successful season, I think,” Rizzo said. “Durability is a key issue, both with position players and in pitching. We want the best player that gives us the best impact. That could be logging the most innings, performing the best, track record, veteran presence … there’s a lot of things that go into the decision on who to target and who to go after.”

The Nationals also acknowledge a need to add more offense to a lineup that sorely lacked in power following the late-summer trades of Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres. They added one player to help fill that void last week in former Tigers corner infielder Jeimer Candelario. They intend to add at least one more, with Martinez specifically adding he’d like a left-handed bat to complement the right-handed Joey Meneses and Lane Thomas and the switch-hitting Candelario and Keibert Ruiz.

The logical place to put that new hitter would be in left field, but Rizzo and Martinez believe they have enough versatility to be more flexible than that. Candelario is projected to compete for the starting job at third base, but if Carter Kieboom proves he’s finally ready for that position, Candelario could shift to first base. That would bump Meneses either to left field or designated hitter.

“I think we have enough moving parts, we could do different things,” Martinez said. “I’d like a guy that could be versatile, if possible. So we’ll see. We’re kind of weighing all the options of what we want to do.”

The Nationals could’ve retained Voit but opted not to tender the veteran slugger a contract only a few months after acquiring him as part of the Soto-Bell blockbuster deal. Voit was due to make a projected $8 million in his final year of arbitration.

“We all have payrolls and budgets that we have to adhere to,” Rizzo said. “We felt that Luke was a good teammate for us and had some success, but we felt that we could allocate those dollars differently.”

On Strasburg's status and tonight's draft lottery
Turner is latest ex-Nat to sign mega deal with NL ...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/