We are officially in the off-season and the free agent clock has started!

Mike Rzzo and Davey Martinez have a lot of work ahead of them: Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

“Next year STARTS NOW” was how the tweet read from the Washington Nationals official Twitter feed moments after the last out was recorded in the World Series last night which advanced the clock officially to the off-season. The free agency clock has started and teams now have an exclusive 5-day window to negotiate with their own free agents. There might not be one of them that the Nats are interested in keeping unless some very deep discounts are available.

The first matter of business for general manager Mike Rizzo is deciding on player options. The Nationals will almost certainly decline the options on Anibal Sanchez, Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, and Eric Thames. If those are carried through, those players would automatically become free agents. Again, that does not indicate that the Nats do not want these players to return on restructured deals like we saw last year when Rizzo declined the options on both Ryan Zimmerman and Yan Gomes and then subsequently brought them back on new deals.

“If my option is not picked up, I don’t know what I will do,” Eaton said with an honest answer as to his future.

“I was thinking about retiring after this year,” Kendrick said at the end of the season. “… I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t really come up with anything. I love baseball. I love the game. That’s one of the toughest decisions you’re ever going to make. Being around these guys playing in D.C., it’s really been a dream come true, and what we accomplished last year, being able to become World Champions, that’s something special. … If this did end up being my last year, I can tell you I really don’t have any regrets.”

Futures do lie in the balance especially with declining payrolls anticipated. While Kendrick has been contemplating retirement since his achilles injury in 2018, other players like Eaton are not ready to hang up the spikes. Many players will not find Major League jobs especially because the 30-man and subsequently the 28-man rosters created openings for younger players who stood out and with a smaller 26-man roster for 2021, there will be fewer spots available. While some will opt for early retirement, some might go the way of Gerardo Parra and head to play professional baseball in Asia to keep their careers going while some will have to decide on taking smaller deals to compete with the younger players for spots, and that is exactly what Josh Harrison did. He made a deal that was only about $400,000 above league minimum with a small incentives package that made it a no-brainer for the Nats to extend him.

Several Nats players were already non-tendered or DFA’d and chose free agency like Michael A. Taylor, Javy Guerra, Roenis Elias, Raudy Read, Aaron Barrett, Sam Freeman, and Paolo Espino.

The pending free agents include Sean Doolittle, Zimmerman, Asdrubal Cabrera, Brock Holt, and Kurt Suzuki. Again, the Nationals have an exclusive 5-day window to negotiate with these players to retain them before they are able to talk to the other 29 teams in the the MLB. As the calendar flips into November, these players most likely will be gauging other interest. Last year, several Nats free agents returned to the team like Zimmerman, Cabrera, Gomes, Hudson, and Kendrick.

With the extension/re-signing Harrison, the potential 40-man roster will be at just 29-players when the 60-day IL players return to the active rosters. The breakdown is: seventeen pitchers, two catchers, six infielders, and four outfielders.

What is also interesting in the overnight tweet from the Nats is that the players pictured in the image were different from year’s past. Sure, no surprise on Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg, and Trea Turner in that image, but why do you put in Victor Robles who struggled during the 2020 season? Maybe there is a message there that the team still sees him as a long-term piece of the puzzle. You have to believe Rizzo signed off on the image, so why not go with Tanner Rainey or Patrick Corbin? They also showed Max Scherzer in there after there were fans concerned that Scherzer put his D.C. area home for sale. The fact is, as you go through the roster, the team lacks long-term continuity.

The Nationals 2021 roster will be carrying several key players who are set to be free agents after that season and the list includes: Scherzer, Yan Gomes, Starlin Castro, Harrison, and Daniel Hudson.

On one hand, the payroll starts to free up which is good, but on the other hand, you can see gaping holes in the roster that we have not seen since 2011’s offseason. To even imagine a Washington Nationals team without Ryan Zimmerman is tough enough, then you see that Max Scherzer‘s seventh year will have come and gone in 2021.

At least the Washington Nationals have a World Series championship to show for it. Many teams go through their window of opportunity and never take advantage of their best rosters. The key is staying relevant for a long period of time with an annual shot at making it into the postseason where winning a World Series is a crap-shoot.

In addition to everything going on with the players, the Nats are also expected to release the details of their 2021 coaching staff. Most of it is known except for Chip Hale‘s replacement which could come internally from Randy Knorr.

Rizzo and Co. have their work cut out for them. Budget constraints and an uncertain team revenue stream will probably affect most teams this offseason. With 3½ months until the team gathers for the opening of Spring Training camp, we are in the Hot Stove season now and Rizzo is on the clock.

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