Nats, News, & Notes: Winterfest happenings

No, Gerardo Parra was not part of the Nats alumni at Winterfest, and technically right now Ryan Zimmerman is part of that alumni and he was not in attendance either even though he lives thirty minutes away from the stadium. Two of the most popular Nationals alumni, Brian Schneider and Chad Cordero from the inaugural 2005 team were there in attendance. Most notably missing from the Nats personnel at the event was manager Dave Martinez, and we were told on Twitter by someone that he is on a vacation. Sure, Trea Turner was on a long-planned vacation in Jackson Hole Wyoming and he flew back to D.C. cutting his vacation to only a few days so he could attend the Winterfest event. Martinez is not the only one missing from the personnel under contract who were not there, and a couple were at Matt Grace‘s wedding in Hawaii like Joe Ross and Michael Taylor, and Adam Eaton had a family emergency. Whereabouts unknown were new signees Will Harris, Starlin Castro and Eric Thames but also Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Daniel Hudson (not officially signed) who were all key players on the 2019 World Series championship team were no-shows. Also not seen were Patrick Corbin, Tanner Rainey, Roenis Elias, Wilmer Difo, and Yan Gomes

In attendance yesterday was Mike Rizzo, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Carter Kieboom, Andrew StevensonVictor Robles, Kurt Suzuki, Sean Doolittle, Aaron Barrett, Erick Fedde, Wander Suero, Austin Voth, Hunter Strickland and all coaches in the dugout except for Paul Menhart, and by the way,  newbie Pat Roessler was there.

So what did we learn from the fan questions and interviews with the attendees? Well Rizzo, Max, Stras, Trea, Suzuki, and Kieboom were the most popular personnel who were asked questions. Rizzo said he was “happy with his team” and we all know what that usually means that he likes it but doesn’t necessarily love it.

Rizzo was asked about Josh Donaldson, Ryan Zimmerman, and the third base situation overall, and there is some irony there on those three topics if you have been following that they are kind of intertwined stories plus the ages of the players have been brought up. Rizzo said he met with Zimmerman for a lengthy meeting this week.  Zim is 35 and only a year older than Donaldson and Zim’s playing career could be over while some are saying Donaldson should be signed until he is nearly 37 ¾. Who has more Gold Gloves at 3rd base between Zim and Donaldson? The answer is Zim with one GG. Zim wants a roster spot which might be there unless of course the right-handed Donaldson takes it.

“We’re never out on anything my man,” Rizzo said. “We’re trying to win championships, and we certainly never close that door on anybody.”

Rizzo once again when asked about Donaldson would not say he is “out” on him so there is that tidbit to continue to keep that door opened by an inch or three. The G.M. did say that he was comfortable with his current infield roster and who could play third base.

“We don’t see it as a hole. We see it as a strength,” Rizzo said about third base. “We’ve got versatility. Of course, you’re not going to replace or replicate Anthony Rendon, his numbers on the field, his presence in the clubhouse and the things he does in the community. But we’re going to be a different team. I think we’re going to be a very competitive team and our goal hasn’t changed. We’re here to win a World Series. That’s our focus.”

Third base could be filled most likely by  Starlin Castro, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick or Carter Kieboom. Who will be the primary third baseman is thought to be Cabrera, but Rizzo could still add a third baseman from outside of the organization. Clearly Davey Martinez has options from his current roster.

“We like our versatility,” Rizzo said. “We like our depth at [third base]. We’ve got a good mixture of young players that are up and coming, and veterans that have proven themselves. It gives Davey a lot of tools to work with, to keep the bench sharp and to keep the everyday players fresh.”

Rizzo’s only position in the infield that is concrete is with Trea Turner who will be the team’s starting shortstop, and even Eric Thames who many think would be the primary first baseman could find himself playing more than just first base. Rizzo likes his versatility and flexibility on his roster from players who can fill multiple roles.

“It’s by design that we give our manager flexibility to do what he feels comfortable with that given day,” Rizzo said. “We needed about 48 players last year to win a world title. This thing takes a village. It takes depth. You have to have players that are willing to accept the challenge of being versatile and using multiple lineups. Davey has grown up in that atmosphere. He did last year with us a lot. Chicago was known for it. So was Tampa. So he’s very familiar with it, and the way he can manipulate lineups and keep people fresh, I think you saw last year was masterful.”

The team also has a decision to make on Wilmer Difo who is signed for $1 million and Kieboom who is the one infielder with minor league options, and he can play all positions in the infield except for first base. We will learn more as we see how the team utilizes the 22-year-old in Spring Training and as the roster is set.

“We feel that he’s going to be a really good player for us,” Rizzo said. “A 21-year-old (when Kieboom debuted) in the big leagues and then in Triple-A all season, that doesn’t happen very often. We feel good about where he’s at. We feel he’s an everyday player in the big leagues that can hit in the middle of lineups and be a good big league player for many, many years to come.”

By the way, Donaldson could be signed to a contract like Harper where you add years onto the deal to bring down the AAV. If you signed Donaldson for 4 years at $88 million would he agree to 6 years at $92 million to make his AAV an easier number like $15.33 million per year? Of course down the road, the Nats could then DFA him if he was just taking up a roster spot and unproductive in his age 38 or 39 seasons. The lower AAV would allow Rizzo to sign him and creatively get under the CBT for 2020. Yes, that is possible and while the MLBPA does not like these types of deals they approved that type of deal for the Phillies and Harper. What about the rest of the infield?

We all know Trea Turner gutted out his 2019 season while playing with 8½ fingers and somehow hit 19 home runs in 122 games with an impressive .298 batting average. As we previously wrote about, Trea had surgery in November on the injured finger where they repaired a tendon and removed a bone spur. What we didn’t know was that he could not even twist off a bottle cap. How did the hand surgeon see all of the issues with the finger? She used a 3D print of the finger to examine the damage. We knew about the tendon damage, but did not know about the bone spur. Now Turner is gripping his bat with all ten fingers as you would hope, and he is convinced that his status is 100 percent healthy.

“I’ve started hitting. I can hit with 10 fingers so it’s good,” Turner said. “We will see how I play. I might go back to nine if I don’t like it, cause I felt like last year went pretty good. I’m definitely in a much better spot this year. Those two minor adjustments helped me improve my range of motion significantly. Now I can do normal things. I can grip the bat. I can grip weights. I see a lot in my workouts and weight lifting that there’s definite improvement there.”

Speaking of health, Max Scherzer says that he is also fully healthy with no issues with his back and neck, and that is a welcomed sign as he turns 36 in July. Max had another MRI that confirmed that he was in good shape. Getting ready for his final two years on his Nationals contract is that constant reminder of how aging athletes must adapt, and Max can mentor his teammates who are in their thirties.

“We got some ideas of different things I’ve got to do,” Scherzer said. “I’m doing different  lifts to help try to do some corrective exercises to help make sure that doesn’t happen again, but as I’ve alluded to — it’s the most confusing injury I’ve ever had in my career. How it came about and how it went away … it wasn’t just a normal injury. Definitely cognizant of that, and doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Stephen Strasburg was the workhorse on the Nats staff and he is trying to get back into his offseason routine. He got a hug from Anibal Sanchez yesterday when they saw each other at the Winterfest, and wherever he was yesterday he was serenaded with cheers from fans and they yelled M-V-P due to his World Series MVP award. Strasburg is now a Nat for life making him one of the most popular players on this team. He also will speak about many topics from dancing to the MLB Productions documentary on the 2019 World Series teams.

“Clearly, the documentary thought Houston was gonna win,” Strasburg said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event Saturday. “Seeing it from that angle, it made it so much better just seeing how heartbroken they were. Because we’ve been there before too so it’s good to return the favor.”

Yes, we said the same thing about the documentary, but every year it is geared towards both teams and a larger audience. With that, we will update if anything should be added to day two of the Winterfest. The next time we see all of these players together will be in about five weeks in Spring Training.

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