With MLB going into the Winter Meetings officially tomorrow afternoon in San Diego, California at the Grand Hyatt hotel, there should be a lot more to talk about in the baseball world. Unfortunately, the Washington Nationals are not one of the teams at the top of the Hot Stove list as they will be mostly window shopping.
After over a decade of the Nats being at the top of the free agent discussions, they are not a destination these days unless general manager Mike Rizzo can convince a top free agent to be part of the start of something special. The Nats were able to ink Jayson Werth at the start of the 2010 Winter Meetings for a spot on the 2011 team.
Priority #1: Get at least one if not two upgrades in the starting rotation. Manager Dave Martinez has been asking for this in interviews, and he deserves a competent pitching staff.
“So you’re talking about adding maybe one or two more starters, ” Martinez said. “We’re going into the winter with a lot of different areas that we need to fix.”
Priority #2: It is time to get the ownership situation set for the offseason. This has been dragging on since April 2022 with no end in sight. One way or another this could also be an issue for any players looking for long-term stability
✅ Priority #3: Beef up the analytics and player development system under De Jon Watson. A year ago, Watson transitioned into his role as Director of Player Development, and we are starting to see the dividends. But we still see players getting promoted that just do not look ready.
Priority #4: Time to clean up the roster with some major addition by subtraction. Players like Erick Fedde and Nelson Cruz should move on. The jury is out on Luke Voit, but if he won’t accept a more market rate salary, it is probably time to non-tender him. The chart below is clear as to all of the Neg-WAR that can be taken off of the roster. Backup catcher upgrade is a need. One name I would throw out is Tucker Barnhart who leaves Detroit after a poor season and almost had an identical OPS to Adams .554 vs. .555. But Barnhart who bats lefty was only a -0.2 WAR in 2022 and mainly because of his great defense would be a sizable upgrade over Adams.
Priority #5: Look to sign CJ Abrams long-term. Now would be the time to do a deal and consider that he is with Roc Nation and not a Boras client like Keibert Ruiz. These two players are part of that young core.
Priority #6: It won’t happen, but the Nats should consider a change in pitching philosophies and move on from pitching coach Jim Hickey who has been given two years to change the starting rotation that had an abominable 5.97 ERA last year after a 5.00+ in 2021. Yes, Hickey deserves some credit for a much improved bullpen, but starting pitching is the key to winning. Darnell Coles is the hitting coach that replaced Kevin Long and he will get 2023 to show what he can do.
“Obviously, you have to throw strikes,” pitching coach Jim Hickey said when he was hired. “Obviously, you have to change speeds. … I’m a huge believer in the changeup. I don’t force anyone to throw changeups. A lot of guys don’t like the changeup because it’s not a sexy pitch. It’s not a huge swing-and-miss pitch for a lot of guys. But there’s a lot of outs in there, and there’s a lot of efficiency in there, and at the end of the year, there’s a lot more innings in there as well.”
No Jim, you dictate to your employees that they must improve at their jobs. Watching Josiah Gray and Patrick Corbin throw a few changeups is not the same as having a ‘plus’ changeup. This is an issue here and always has been sans Tyler Clippard, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. It seems that part of the issue is graduating starting pitchers with two-pitch repertoires that don’t even meet an analytics standards on pitch accuracy and spin rates.
Priority #7: Spend money. In the short-term, the only way to fix this sooner than later is to spend. By our count based on the current CBA formula, the Nats 2023 payroll is at UPDATED: $109.6 million after signing Jeimer Candelario ,with projected arb-eligible salaries. Spend to the league average of $163 million in total, and give Rizzo $54 million to spend this winter, and hopefully more.
Priority #8: If you have the money, Martinez was also looking for one big bat. Michael Conforto would be at the top of my list and clearly there are other players who could add some positives to this lineup.
Priority #9: Progress with the farm system as 2023 has to be a season for progress after dealing with some nagging injuries to players like Brady House. The Juan Soto trade replenished this farm system into a system that will rank in the top-half of baseball.
Priority #10: Current ownership owes it to these fans to improve markedly over the 2022 team. Losing 107 games is not acceptable. Nobody is expecting the Washington Nationals in the 2023 playoffs, but we would like to see a concerted effort to improve this team in free agency.
These priorities will change and evolve. The good news is there are no tough choices with free agents leaving. There has already been a purge. Changes were needed.