On December 10th, the Winter Meetings will officially kick-off at 7am in Orlando with the annual job fair. It is not your usual Sunday morning for the thousands of job seekers with much hope and yearning for a career in baseball — the crowd is unusual as you have a mix of people from college students to retired baseball players. For anyone who has walked the halls at a winter meeting event, they will tell you about the hundreds of former players in attendance who are working or looking for work.
While Thanksgiving week is usually a slow week, there are still some deals that get done. Last year at this time, Mike Rizzo made some smaller moves re-signing Chris Heisey as a bench player, and he added some non-roster players like Brandon Snyder. So far this week after the GM Meetings ending, Mike Rizzo has signed outfielder Ryan Raburn to a minor league deal. Raburn played in 25 games for the Nationals this past season batting .262 and is part of the filler you add to Triple-A.
Clearly there is nothing earth shattering that has transpired yet in this off-season as far as player trades and signings in Major League baseball. Mike Rizzo usually does his big moves during the Winter Meetings and up until mid-January even though Rizzo made late deals last year with Joe Blanton and then he signed Matt Wieters after spring training started. Patience is a virtue in Mike Rizzo’s world even though fans want something big to cheer about now.
There were some 2017 weaknesses for the Nationals like the catcher production which was the worst in baseball at a combined -1.1 fWAR and adding a capable back-up catcher should be on Rizzo’s priority list. Some of the other areas for improvement will most likely be in the back of the Nationals starting rotation and the middle of the bullpen and bench.
The Nationals don’t have much to do this off-season compared to years past. It seemed as simple as all they have to do is pencil in their April 22, 2017 line-up card for Opening Day with Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg pitching — but it is never that simple. Dave Martinez is set for his starters looking forward although much depends on health as Daniel Murphy who is recovering from a knee debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee that bothered him much of the season.
Everything considered compared to the competition, the Nationals are in a good position with regards to their key players returning; however, there was significant turnover this off-season on the bench and in the bullpen as Howie Kendrick, Brandon Kintzler, Adam Lind, and Matt Albers all headed to free agency.
The Rule 5 draft takes place on the morning of December 14th at the Winter Meetings and tomorrow the Rule 5 draft reserve lists must be submitted. The Washington Nationals have several players they must decide on whether or not to protect by Monday at 8 p.m. EDT. The Nationals have already protected reliever Wander Suero leaving decisions on infielders Kelvin Gutierrez, Drew Ward, and Osvaldo Abreu as well as catchers Spencer Kieboom and Taylor Gushue and pitcher Jefrey Rodriguez.
Gutierrez was part of this year’s Arizona Fall League and led his Mesa Solar Sox team in batting at .350. Just for reference, the 40-man roster only has 5 open spots as of today. Remember, all players on the 60-day DL were added back to the roster like Joe Ross and Adam Eaton. Ross will certainly start the season on the 60-day DL and Eaton is expected to be a full participant in Spring Training.
We learned last year how Mike Rizzo collaborates with all parts of his front office like when the Nationals acquired Adam Eaton as the analytics and scouting department were in agreement on the acquisition:
“It was one of the few times — in the war room where the analytical information matched up with the scouting eye, and it was a decision in the room that was very easy for us to make, to determine that this was the player, at this time, with that skillset, with the control, where at that price was the right guy for us to do it.”
Expect that Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez and their scouting and analytics staff are doing much collaboration to work towards improving the 2018 Washington Nationals team.