Though he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of acquiring a big-name player like Josh Donaldson, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo insisted today he’s more than comfortable with his team’s current options at third base.
“We don’t see it as a hole. We see it as a strength,” Rizzo said during a 17-minute session with reporters at Winterfest. “We’ve got versatility. Of course, you’re not going to replace or replicate Anthony Rendon, his numbers on the field, his presence in the clubhouse and the things he does in the community. But we’re going to be a different team. I think we’re going to be a very competitive team and our goal hasn’t changed. We’re here to win a World Series. That’s our focus.”
To date, the Nationals haven’t acquired anyone who individually could fill the massive hole Rendon created when he signed a $245 million contract with the Angels last month. They’ve been one of several teams in the mix for Donaldson, who is expected to command a four-year deal in excess of $100 million, but in the meantime they’ve signed or re-signed four veteran infielders for far less money in Starlin Castro, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames.
Add top prospect Carter Kieboom to that mix, and the club believes it has a host of versatile infielders who can play multiple positions. And within that group, Rizzo believes he has his third baseman.
“We think we do,” he said. “We like our versatility. We like our depth at the position. We’ve got a good mixture of young players that are up and coming, and veterans that have proven themselves. It’s given (manager) Davey (Martinez) a lot of tools to work with, to keep the bench sharp and to keep the everyday players fresh.”
Rizzo wouldn’t declare any particular player as his expected starter at any particular infield position (aside from shortstop Trea Turner, whose role is clearly defined), but he described that setup as intentional.
“It’s by design that we give our manager flexibility to do what he feels comfortable with that given day,” the GM said. “We needed about 48 players last year to win a world title. This thing takes a village. It takes depth. You have to have players that are willing to accept the challenge of being versatile and using multiple lineups. Davey has grown up in that atmosphere. He did last year with us a lot. Chicago was known for it. So was Tampa. So he’s very familiar with it. And the way he can manipulate lineups and keep people fresh, I think you saw last year, was masterful.”
Kieboom, the 21-year-old natural shortstop who saw time at second base and third base last season at Triple-A Fresno, figures into this scenario at some point. That may not be right out of the chute on opening day.
“We feel that he’s going to be a really good player for us,” Rizzo said. “A 21-year-old in the big leagues and then in Triple-A all season, that doesn’t happen very often. We feel good about where he’s at. We feel he’s an everyday player in the big leagues that can hit in the middle of lineups and be a good big league player for many, many years to come.”
Aside from the issue of Donaldson, the biggest remaining question about the Nationals roster involves Ryan Zimmerman. The only player to appear in a game in each of the franchise’s 15 seasons since it relocated from Montreal, he’s a free agent for the first time in his career and remains unsigned.
Zimmerman, who is not attending Winterfest even though he lives locally, has long insisted he won’t ever play for another franchise and that he’s willing to accept a salary far reduced from the $18 million he made last season. The Nationals have long insisted they still view the 35-year-old first baseman as a key part of the organization moving forward.
So far, nothing formal has happened, but Rizzo said he and Zimmerman met in person for 90 minutes at his Nationals Park office earlier this week.
“He’s a guy that we’re talking to,” Rizzo said. “We’re not going to discuss that. But he’s a guy that someday there will be a statue with his likeness on it here in center field. We’d love for him to end his career here in Washington.”