Rizzo, Nats looking to just tinker
Washington GM’s workload light compared to others
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. (WPNS) — As questions about Giancarlo Stanton, Shohei Otani, and other weighty baseball topics floated around him in the courtyard of the Waldorf Astoria, Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo stood with a smaller crowd of reporters than many of his general manager colleagues, addressing minutia, not major concerns.
Rizzo helped organize this week’s general managers’ meetings in Orlando and has more responsibilities than he might otherwise. But compared with many of his fellow general managers, his workload this week is light.
The search for a manager is complete. Dave Martinez will make $2.8 million over three years, with an option worth $1.2 million
for a fourth, according to a person familiar with the situation. Dusty Baker, for reference, made $4 million over two years and likely would have been owed a raise had he stayed.
Martinez’s new coaching staff is set — or will be as soon as things are official with Henry Blanco, who is expected to be named the Nationals’ next bullpen coach but has not yet signed. That coaching staff will meet this weekend in West Palm Beach to plan for the offseason and beyond.
So the heavy lifting for the Nationals’ front office is over, relatively speaking. The Nationals do not need an overhaul of their roster this offseason. They need tinkering. They do not need to acquire
franchise-altering pieces. They need complementary pieces — and as always, as much pitching as they can get.
“I don’t plan on” pursuing a front-line starter, Rizzo said. “. . . but I do foresee going after some depth in the starting rotation. I do foresee going after some depth in the bullpen and some strategic bench pieces that could fit what we’re trying to do.”
So goes the Nationals’ offseason plan, in a nutshell. They will hunt starting pitching but more for the middle or back end of their rotation. They will hunt bullpen help, though they feel confident in Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle handling the end of the game. And they will hunt bench help, which makes sense given that Stephen Drew, Jose Lobaton, Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind all hit free agency this winter and seem unlikely to return.
Rizzo expressed full confidence in the front of his rotation, “one through four” — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark — which he called “as good as any and better than most.” But he acknowledged the Nationals’ depth behind those four, which consists of Erick Fedde, A.J. Cole and more unprovens, is not what he would like it to be.
“Right now, we go six, seven deep,” Rizzo said. “I’d like to go eight, nine, 10 deep.”
His bullpen is about six men deep, assuming righthanders Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover recover from their season-ending injuries, which Rizzo says he expects both to do in time for spring training.
While Oliver Perez will depart in free agency, lefties Enny Romero, Sammy Solis and Doolittle are under contract for next season, and
Rizzo said he is “comfortable” with his left-handed contingent. Madson, Kelley and Glover are the only locks from the right side — and two of them saw their seasons end prematurely because of arm trouble.
“We think they’re going to be healthy, but we really don’t know,” Rizzo said. “So [a right-handed reliever] is something we would consider, more so than a left-handed reliever.”
As for those bench pieces, Rizzo admitted that because Lind and Kendrick performed so well this season, they likely will find more playing time and money elsewhere than the Nationals would be willing to allocate to bench players. If they do depart, the Nationals will be left searching for power-hitting pinch-hit options, a proven backup infielder to complement Wilmer Difo and potentially a backup catcher,
though Rizzo indicated that the player who will share catching duties with Matt Wieters already might be on the roster.
“I think [Pedro Severino] is definitely ready to handle it, and that would give us a chance to play Matt less than we played him last year to keep him fresher,” said Rizzo, who pointed out Wieters played 123 games, which was tied for seventh among big league catchers, and indicated his confidence that Wieters could engineer a bounceback season in 2018.
Agents probably will try to peddle catching options to the Nationals over the coming weeks, hoping they will bite on someone more proven than Severino. But with $10.5 million committed to Wieters, alone, the Nationals might decide to stick with cost-effective Severino instead.
Rizzo confirmed the Na-
tionals exceeded the luxury tax threshold for the first time in 2017, which resulted in penalty of 20 percent of their minimal overages, and did not affect them much at all. But exceeding that threshold again would increase the penalty to 30 percent and therefore is something the Nationals would rather avoid, though Rizzo would not say that he is limited in his spending because of it.
Exactly how much the Nationals are willing to spend to bolster their rotation, bullpen, and bench is unclear. But their needs are not glaring, and the budget need not grow by much. For Rizzo, who spent the first month of his offseason compiling a new coaching staff, the work remaining is likely comparable to the work already done. His Nationals have moved out of their brief demolition phase and into a less-intensive remodel.