With yesterday’s signing of Alex Avila as the backup catcher, the Washington Nationals have nearly put their final stamp on their offseason as camps for Spring Training open in less than three weeks. We will then transition into the pre-season phase of the year. But the question today is, will Mike Rizzo make one or two more moves? With the 40-man roster at 39 after Avila’s signing becomes official, there looks to be at least one more move to make in the near-term.
The Nats went into this offseason thinking of 2021 and fixing what went wrong with the 2020 team. General manager Mike Rizzo made several moves and expanded the payroll from last year at a time when most teams went into hibernation for the winter.
Most of the moves started with clearing the roster by a means of addition by subtraction. Additionally, a lot of great franchise players won’t return like Howie Kendrick who retired and Adam Eaton signed with the White Sox as a free agent. Ryan Zimmerman returns in a bench role, and the team’s biggest acquisitions were for Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, and Jon Lester.
“Mike [Rizzo] is always looking to make us better,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We’re constantly talking. … I like where we’re going. I like where we’re headed. … We’re always looking to get better. I like we’re at right now. I’m looking forward to getting to Spring Training and getting them ready for the season.”
Better? Yes. Good enough to win the NL East? Probably not on paper. Can Rizzo make one or two more roster moves to make this team look better on paper? Actually, one move can be made easily with an open spot on the 40-man roster. In order to make two moves, a roster spot would have to be opened up via a DFA or a trade of an existing player on the 40-man roster.
Really like what Nats have done very quietly this winter. Hand was key. They look solid.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 29, 2021
It might be best to look at Davey’s “back of the napkin” roster and the lineup he projected on his chat with Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio. Of course all of that changes if the NL adopts a designated hitter (DH) for the 2021 season.
- SS Trea Turner
- RF Juan Soto (L)
- 1B Josh Bell (S)
- LF Kyle Schwarber (L)
- 2B Starlin Castro
- C Yan Gomes
- CF Victor Robles
- 3B Carter Kieboom
- Starting Pitcher
- LHP Brad Hand
- RHP Daniel Hudson
- RHP Will Harris
- RHP Tanner Rainey
- RHP Kyle Finnegan
- RHP Wander Suero
- RHP Austin Voth / Erick Fedde
What stands out is obviously the two vacant spots on the roster. Those openings could be decided from players already in the system. Also, Carter Kieboom as the projected starter on Davey’s lineup still does not feel like a “lock” and that could open up a third spot. The rest of the roster seems set as Davey has already named Joe Ross as a starter.
Specifically looking at Kieboom’s 165 plate appearances in the Majors, they have been a struggle overall with a .181/ .309 /.232 /.541 slash. His zone chart shows little plate coverage, but two factors in his favor is he has hit lefty pitchers better and has hit better with runners on-base.
Some believe Kieboom will figure it out if the team sticks with him. Some may be convinced there’s still something lacking in Kieboom, and his improvement will come in the Minor Leagues. The words of Dusty Baker echo often when a personnel decision needs to be made.
“This isn’t a tryout camp. This is a: ‘Try to play the best team overall to win the game and win the pennant’,” Dusty Baker said during the All-Star break of 2016 about Trea Turner.
The Nats have had faith in their 2016 first-round pick from the day they drafted him when Dusty was in his first year managing the Nats. The evaluators at Baseball America had Kieboom as a Top-25 prospect, but his opportunities on the MLB diamond have yielded few positive results. Baker was wrong about Trea Turner. But if Baker was managing this team, he would be pushing Rizzo to get him an upgrade for the infield.
Right or wrong, you have to prove yourself, and Kieboom has time to prove the doubters wrong. If this was the 2009 Washington Nationals, Kieboom would be starting somewhere on the infield — but it is not 2009 or 2016. As Baker said, you are trying to play the best team overall to win the game and win the pennant.
Really, it comes down to capital resources if we can be honest here. The Nationals have blown past the $190 million mark in spending and are just over $195 million which puts the team less than $15 million from the CBT cap. The Nats will not go over the cap, but will they spend another $10 to $12 million to finalize the roster and get ahead of the Braves on paper?
Right now, FanGraphs is projecting these win totals in the NL East:
- 92 Mets
- 86 Braves
- 83 Nationals
- 79 Phillies
- 71 Marlins
Of course we say over and over that games are not played on paper. This is not a referendum on Kieboom. There are other question marks here also which is why there are two certain vacancy signs and possibly a third. The next 2 ½ weeks before the team reports to West Palm Beach will tell us Rizzo’s final move(s) and whether that comes from a trade or a free agent signing. Here are some of the names who could fit if the price is right:
Who would you add through a free agent acquisition or a trade?