What the Nationals still need to address this offseason

Baseball’s offseason, believe it or not, is already halfway complete. The regular season ended 2 1/2 months ago. Pitchers and catchers report in two months.

For the Nationals, of course, this offseason has been much shorter to date. One of the downsides of going to the World Series is the delayed start to the winter, leaving much to be done in a compressed window.

The Nats have already done a lot to prepare for 2020. They re-signed Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick, Yan Gomes and Javy Guerra. They added reliever Kyle Finnegan. They made changes to their coaching staff. And they lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels and Gerardo Parra to the Yomiuri Giants.

But there’s still a lot left to do before everyone convenes in West Palm Beach, Fla., to begin their title defense.

With the Winter Meetings now in the rear view mirror, the holidays fast approaching and 2020 soon to be a reality, here’s a look at what Mike Rizzo and Co. still need to accomplish this offseason ...

This was never going to be easy. How do you replace the best everyday player in your lineup, especially when the viable options are limited? But the Nationals have no choice but to try to pull this off now that Rendon is hanging out in Disneyland with $245 million to spend on souvenirs.

There are two issues here: The Nats need a new third baseman. But they also need a new No. 3 hitter. Ideally, they’ll kill two birds with one stone, but that may not be possible. The best alternative to fill both spots is Josh Donaldson, who is expected to cost $25 million per year over three or four years, but the Rangers, Braves and perhaps Twins are also in pursuit of the veteran.

Some have suggested a trade for Kris Bryant, but that would be tough. The Cubs would want big-time prospects in return, and the Nationals wouldn’t know for sure if the former National League MVP is under contract for one or two more seasons. (Bryant has a pending grievance in an attempt to become a free agent after the 2020 season instead of the 2021 season because of the manner in which the Cubs delayed his big league debut way back in 2015.)

What are the other alternatives? Free agent Starlin Castro hit 22 homers with 31 doubles and 86 RBIs for the Marlins this season and can play second or third base. Maikel Franco averaged 22 homers and 72 RBIs for the Phillies the last four seasons and is available after being non-tendered. Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Schoop are second basemen with some pop who could take pressure off the eventual third baseman to put up big numbers.

Even if Rendon had re-signed, the Nationals still were going to have more vacancies in their infield to fill. So far, they know Trea Turner is at shortstop and Kendrick is part of the mix at first and second bases. That’s it.

At some point the club and Ryan Zimmerman need to sit down and finalize a new deal for his return. Both sides acknowledge it will happen. It’s just a matter of time. Then the Nationals need to decide if they’re going to try to re-sign Asdrúbal Cabrera, Matt Adams or Brian Dozier (or any combination of those free agents) or look for infield help elsewhere.

Kieboom-C-Boots-Grounder-Blue-Sidebar.jpgAnd tied in with all this is Carter Kieboom. What’s the real plan for the organization’s top prospect? Is he ready to be an everyday big leaguer? If so, where is he best suited to play: second or third base? Or are club officials concerned he’s not really cut out for either position, in which case they’ve got a real problem on their hands?

Mike Rizzo made it clear this week he intends to go into the season with the best bullpen he can assemble and not wait for the July trade deadline to address any weaknesses. That’s easier said than done, but it’s fair to expect the Nationals to try to acquire at least two more experienced relief arms before opening day.

One of those could be Daniel Hudson, who excelled in a late-inning role after his acquisition on July 31, though the Nats have concerns about giving the veteran a multi-year deal. Other experienced late-inning relievers who could be in the mix include Dellin Betances, Steve Cishek and Will Harris.

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