Last chance to make moves before tonight’s expected lockout

After an awfully quiet start to the offseason, then a furious 48 hours of nonstop news, now baseball has fewer than 24 hours to wrap up any remaining business before the collective bargaining agreement expires and a league-imposed lockout is expected to commence.

All of this has made for an unusual couple of days as clubs around the sport rushed to make moves both big and small before a transactions freeze brings a stop to all activity until owners and players can agree on a new CBA.

It could take weeks to be settled. It could take months. It could threaten the start of spring training. Or worse.

Whatever the eventual outcome, unless there’s a sudden peace accord today, at 11:59 p.m. the current CBA will expire and everything will come to a screeching halt. So if there’s anything the Nationals still hope to accomplish, they better act quick.

Thumbnail image for baseballs-generic-art-nats.jpgThe Nats did finally make some news Tuesday, in three rounds of activity. They claimed infielder Lucius Fox off waivers from the Orioles. Then they announced they weren’t tendering contracts to Wander Suero, Ryne Harper or Mike Ford, making all three free agents. Then they signed their first major league free agent of the winter, giving veteran second baseman César Hernández a one-year, $4 million deal.

That leaves the Nationals with 38 players on their 40-man roster for the moment. So they have room to add two more players today if they want.

After tonight, though, it could be a long time before any club makes any transaction. That could lead to a real scramble in the final days and weeks leading up to spring training, as 30 clubs try to address their remaining needs and hundreds of unemployed players try to get big league jobs before pitchers and catchers report.

Assuming the lockdown does happen, teams are not allowed even to negotiate with players until a new CBA is ratified. Players cannot use club facilities to work out, except for those rehabbing from baseball injuries suffered while playing for that club. (So Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are allowed to work out at the Nats complex in West Palm Beach, but Juan Soto and Josh Bell are not.)

Baseball hasn’t been in this position in a long time. There hasn’t been a work stoppage in 27 years, the longest stretch of labor peace for the sport since the union was founded in 1966. And this one, at least for now, isn’t going to threaten any games, which is both advantageous and disadvantageous depending on your point of view.

What kind of shape are the Nationals in? Well, we already knew going into the offseason they weren’t likely to be big spenders, and they certainly haven’t been to date. They’ve spent a total of $5 million on major leaguers, having re-signed Alcides Escobar in October before going nearly two months without making another comparable transaction before Tuesday night’s signing of Hernández.

But there are still roster holes they’ll need to fill eventually. They need help in the rotation and bullpen. They probably need a left fielder. They could still look to upgrade at third base.

If they’re desperate enough, the Nats could try to address any of those holes today and get a deal done at the wire. If not, they’re going to be stuck with the rest of us watching helplessly from afar until a new CBA is in place.

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