The Nationals are better positioned than most clubs as the countdown to spring training reaches its final days. Having addressed all of their major needs during the offseason - most of those coming early in the offseason, for that matter - they’ll gather in West Palm Beach with no gaping roster holes.
But does that mean the Nats are going to sit idly by while everyone else signs all of the remaining free agents after camp opens? Perhaps not.
There’s the Bryce Harper situation, of course, and that gets all the attention. If you thought this winter was annoying, wait til we’re a week or two into spring training and the Bryce rumors are still floating around as he drags out his decision.
Suffice it to say, until Harper signs with someone, there’s still going to be some chance he returns to Washington. So that would be an awfully big spring training roster addition if it happened.
But there are plenty more moves Mike Rizzo could make from his office at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. And it wouldn’t be out of character for him to do it.
Remember, the Nationals signed Adam Lind on the eve of spring training 2017, then signed Matt Wieters a week later. Last spring, they signed Joaquin Benoit in late February and Jeremy Hellickson in mid-March.
So it’s not like Rizzo isn’t willing to make deals during camp. And given how many free agents are still out there, there will be plenty of opportunity for comparable deals this spring.
What might the Nationals be looking for at that point? Barring injuries, their rotation now appears set following Hellickson’s signing last week. The everyday lineup is set, as well, with Brian Dozier and the two new catchers having long since been acquired.
Perhaps there’s an opening for a spot on the bench, but only if it’s clear Howie Kendrick won’t be ready for opening day. The Nationals plan to evaluate Kendrick’s progress from a ruptured Achilles tendon during the early days of camp and get a sense of how much more time he needs. If it’s clear he won’t make it by March 28, they could decide to pursue another right-handed bat for their bench. (Josh Harrison, anyone?)
If there’s a most likely area for continued improvement, it would involve the bullpen. The Nationals wouldn’t have much trouble assembling a seven-man ‘pen to open the season right now if they had to do it, but they also could find some ways to selectively upgrade. Or at least add some much-needed depth in the event others get hurt.
There are tons of relievers still available, and unlike Harper and Manny Machado they may grow desperate for a job very soon. Would Rizzo give out a guaranteed, big league contract at this late stage? It’s possible. And as stated earlier, he’s done it each of the last two springs.
This much seems certain: Just because pitchers and catchers report in 48 hours, the Nationals’ offseason isn’t necessarily over yet.