WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - As position players across baseball report for spring training and other teams continue to seek upgrades via the large pool of still unsigned free agents, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo suggested he’s perfectly content going into the season with the group he already has in place.
“I really like the roster that we constructed so far,” Rizzo said Sunday evening during a local gathering of GMs and managers from most clubs that train in Florida. “I think we filled all the gaps we needed to fill. You never say never. You never say you’re done. But we’re really satisfied at this particular time of spring training where we’re at and the roster that we have.”
The Nationals do have an edge over just about every other club still trying to plug in roster holes after completing the most aggressive winter in the sport. Rizzo signed or traded for 10 players now on the team’s 40-man roster, including the top free agent starting pitcher (Patrick Corbin), two catchers (Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki), a starting second baseman (Brian Dozier), two back-of-the-rotation starters (Aníbal Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson) and key bench and bullpen pieces (Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough).
“We like what we’ve done this offseason,” he said. “We made a lot of moves, because we needed to make a lot of moves. We lost a lot of players due to free agency this year, and I think we got some really veteran presence with the ability of guys who have performed in the past, and guys who will give us a chance to compete for really big things this year.”
And yet it must be tempting for Rizzo to look at some of the players still available in mid-February (particularly relievers) and wonder if there’s room for more improvement.
The Nationals bullpen, as currently constructed, has few sure things beyond All-Star closer Sean Doolittle. Rosenthal and Barraclough are being counted on to bounce back following injury (in the former’s case) and performance struggles (in the latter’s case). Right-handers Wander Suero, Koda Glover and Justin Miller all impressed at times and labored at times last season. Lefty Matt Grace did perform well in 2018 but has an undefined role. And fellow lefty Sammy Solís is trying to reverse course following a disastrous season.
“We have a lot of confidence in our bullpen possibilities,” Rizzo said. “Matt Grace had a terrific year for us last year. Sammy Solís has had good stuff. He’s got to harness it and get out lefties and put his talent into performance. And (non-roster invitee Vidal Nuño) is a guy we feel good about going into spring training that could make an impact on the club, too.”
When it came to the biggest elephant in the room, Rizzo wouldn’t play along Sunday evening. Asked where things currently stand with Bryce Harper, he replied: “We’re going to talk about players we have on the team. We’re not going to talk about players we don’t have on the team.”
Rizzo did address another large pending issue: talks about a long-term deal with Anthony Rendon, who is slated to become a free agent after this season. The two sides have had discussions, and though there’s been no momentum toward an agreement, there remains optimism at least about the mutual interest in getting something done at some point.
“We love Anthony.” Rizzo said. “He’s a guy I scouted for a long time. We drafted, signed and developed him into an elite player. He’s a guy we look at in a Nationals uniform for a long time to come. We’ve had prior conversations that didn’t bear any fruit, but we’re going to continue to have dialogue. I think Anthony wants to be here. We’d like to have him. So I think there’s an opportunity there to have him be a National for a long time.”