The Nationals have made three significant acquisitions so far this offseason, and they addressed unquestionably the club’s three biggest needs.
But that’s not all the Nationals needed to do this winter to bolster their roster. They had a longer list of priorities, and though they’ve now crossed off the top three items on that list, there are several more lines to go.
What’s left on Mike Rizzo’s shopping list? Here’s a rundown ...
* ANOTHER CATCHER
If we are to believe what Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez said last month, Yan Gomes will start roughly 100 games, making him the club’s No. 1 catcher. Which means the Nationals need a No. 2 behind the plate. Not a weak-hitting backup who starts only once a week. A competent catcher who starts two or three times a week and is able to step in and play every day if Gomes gets hurt.
Though the list of remaining free agents is shrinking, there are some capable names still available: Alex Avila, Robinson Chirinos, Tyler Flowers, Austin Romine, Tony Wolters.
And, of course, there’s still J.T. Realmuto. There’s been no indication to date the Nats are seriously pursuing the two-time All-Star. And given what they’ve already spent on others this winter, it doesn’t seem like they’ve left themselves room to swoop in and sign him for big bucks. But until Realmuto actually signs with someone, you can never say never. (Just don’t hold your breath on this one.)
* LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER
The Nationals’ bullpen is as stable as it’s been in a long time. With Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Will Harris, Wander Suero and Kyle Finnegan all returning, there’s no urgent need here for another big late-inning arm.
But the relief corps still is lacking a proven left-hander. Sam Clay, a 27-year-old former Twins prospect who has never pitched in the majors, did get a big league contract from the club early in the offseason. But Rizzo (who also signed veteran Luis Avilán to a minor league deal) is still going to want someone else with some kind of track record.
The most prominent name remains Brad Hand, who would make a very good left-handed complement to Hudson for the eighth and ninth innings, but plenty of teams covet the three-time All-Star. If they can’t land Hand, the Nats could still turn to Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Aaron Loup or old pal Sean Doolittle.
* ANOTHER INFIELDER (OR TWO)
After being overstocked with infielders in 2019 and some of 2020, it may come as a surprise that the Nationals are short on them right now. That’s what happens when Howie Kendrick retires, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Ryan Zimmerman are free agents and Wilmer Difo is a Pirate. Josh Harrison is back, though, and he can play a variety of positions. But the Nats still need at least one more infielder, in particular someone who can back up Bell at first base.
Hmm, know anyone who hits lefties well, has a smooth glove at first base and won’t cost much? Maybe a guy who has been with the organization for 16 years? (For the record, Zimmerman agreed to his last deal with the Nats on Jan. 24, 2020. If he’s going to agree to another deal, it’s probably coming soon.)
Even if and when they re-sign Zimmerman, the Nationals could still use another backup infielder, more of a traditional middle infielder. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the possibility of acquiring a starting third baseman (or perhaps second baseman) if they’re not convinced Carter Kieboom is the answer.
* ANOTHER OUTFIELDER
We know the 2021 starting outfield: Schwarber in left, Victor Robles in center, Juan Soto in right. And we know Andrew Stevenson is the fourth outfielder. But the Nats probably need a fifth outfielder as well, and it would help if he batted right-handed.
Though Schwarber is going to start most nights, Martinez probably would prefer a right-handed hitter to plug into the lineup when facing a tough lefty. It’s possible Harrison could fill that role if he’s not needed too much in the infield. But with a 26-man roster, there should be room for another bench player this year, and another true outfielder would probably make the most sense to fill that spot.