Rizzo, Nats look­ing to just tinker

Wash­ing­ton GM’s work­load light com­pared to oth­ers

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS -

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.

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