On November 1st, the off-season started after the final out in game 7 of the World Series. It seems like several months to those who watched their favorite teams exit in October. In reality, we are just 40 days since the season ended to the start of the Winter Meetings in Orlando.
At 7am this morning, the Winter Meetings kicked off with their 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 an eclectic from college students to former players. You also never know who you will run into.
The fireworks started early leading into this weekend with Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton both finding new teams before the Winter Meetings started. Stanton is the reigning NL MVP, and Ohtani was the biggest name in free agency.
So far the Washington Nationals have been very quiet and have been watching like most teams who weren’t in the final 7 for Ohtani or the final 4 for Stanton. Only the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers were on both lists for Ohtani and Stanton and got neither. The Nationals have few needs. Mike Rizzo has reportedly just been adding minor league filler with names like Ryan Raburn, Jason Martinson, Michael Almanzar, and David Goforth.
For those who know Mike Rizzo, they know he usually does his big moves during the Winter Meetings and up until mid-January and last year was an extreme outlier as Rizzo made several late deals last year with the Enny Romero trade, and then signing free agents Adam Lind, Joe Blanton and Matt Wieters.
On the surface, the Nationals don’t have much to do this off-season to fill the needs. That is on the surface, and Mike Rizzo operates at a level above the surface. Perhaps the most pressing issue is the salary cap as the Nats have little room to stay below it. As we’ve mentioned several times, the April 22, 2017 line-up card is the same as the projected Opening Day line-up if Daniel Murphy is healthy and nobody is traded from that group.
Matt Wieters was among the worst catchers in baseball in offensive and defensive metrics, and on the other side is Michael Taylor who was one of the best centerfielders in baseball. Taylor could be trade currency and many hope Wieters is either traded or is relegated to a back-up role. Expect Wieters and Taylor to be in that Opening Day line-up in March, but they are two players to keep an eye on.
The biggest opening day question mark is certainly Daniel Murphy who is recovering from a knee debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee that bothered him much of the season. Recovering from these types of surgeries can take a few months or several months. The Nationals could counter with Wilmer Difo until Murphy is ready or look to another direction to bring back a player like Howie Kendrick who can play 2nd base as well as leftfield.
Some of the glaring holes are adding depth to the bench and bullpen while looking to upgrade one spot in the starting rotation as well as the catcher’s role. Every team in the MLB is also trying to add depth to their bench and bullpen and starting rotation depth which makes the competition deep for the same players.
While the Nationals are in a good position with regards to their key players returning, 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. Adam Lind and Matt Albers came up big for this team and Kendrick and Kintzler also had their big moments. The Nats have mutual interest in each of these players and especially Kendrick due to the uncertainty as we aforementioned on Murphy’s knee. The issue would be more in the financials on Kendrick. While the Nationals do not need both Kintzler and Albers, they certainly could use one of them back and Kintzler has said he has interest in returning.
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. For many teams, their hopes and dreams begin at the Winter Meetings.