Rizzo disappointed Heyward passed on offer, talks Escobar trade and adding depth

Outfielder Jason Heyward was the latest of the marquee free agents passing on a lucrative offer from the Nationals, instead signing with another ballclub. Like infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist, Heyward chose to take his talents to Wrigley Field next season. Right-hander Darren O’Day, the best reliever available on the free agent market, gave the Nats their first bit of bad news in free agency a week ago when he decided to stay with the Orioles.

General manager Mike Rizzo was disappointed the Nats weren’t able to land the 26-year-old Heyward. As they did with O’Day and Zobrist, the Nationals made a competitive offer to Heyward, reportedly around $200 million for the three-time Gold Glove winner.

Jason-Heyward-Cardinals-sidebar.jpg“We made an aggressive, legitimate market-value offer to a terrific player and he decided to take it elsewhere,” Rizzo said Saturday at Winterfest. “He’s a terrific player, a great citizen and an all-around good guy. Those things are expected. We have alternative plans for everything that we get done and things that we don’t get done. We wish him well and we’ll certainly make arrangements to improve the roster other ways.”

The Nationals still would like to add an outfielder and second baseman, preferably with a left-handed bat. There is a lack of experience in the middle of the Nats infield after Rizzo traded Yunel Escobar to the Angels on Thursday for right-handers Trevor Gott and Michael Brady.

“Those are always tough decisions,” Rizzo said. “Yuni was a great teammate for us and had a terrific year. With the shifting around of Anthony Rendon back to third base, we figured that if we can get a good return for Yuni this year that we would go ahead and make a trade. And we thought that we did very well in a swap for two really good right-handed relief pitchers.”

Rookies Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo received a taste of the big leagues last year and figure to compete for starting middle infield spots in spring training along with Danny Espinosa. But the Nats chasing Zobrist indicates a desire to gain more experience up the middle.

difo-throw-spring-training-white-sidebar.jpg“We still have very good depth in the middle of the infield,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got two young players and Danny that’s a veteran player. We like the skill set of all three of them and we’d feel good about going to spring training with those guys. We’re also early in the offseason to help with depth there also.”

One of the latest rumors coming from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman had the Nationals offering lefty Gio Gonzalez to the Marlins for 24-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder Christian Yelich. “It took one second for the Marlins to say ‘no thanks,’ ” Heyman tweeted Saturday.

“There are a lot of things that we could do via the free agent market and the trade market,” Rizzo said yesterday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “So we’re gonna see what fits for us nicely and what deals we can make. We’re just out scouring and looking for players that can help improve the roster and make us a championship-caliber club.”

See you later this morning for Day 2 of Winterfest.

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