Mike Rizzo speaks before the stomach flu abruptly ends the GM Meetings

The GM meetings started on Tuesday and were supposed to have concluded today in Scottsdale, Arizona, until a bad case of stomach flu hit dozens of attendees. At first they thought it might have been food poisoning — but once it was determined to be a virus, MLB shut it down on Wednesday. Today’s schedule is really for the benefit of registered MLBPA agents, and their meetings will be conducted on ZOOM calls.

Yesterday, in the early afternoon in Scottsdale, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke in MLB Network and then to the assembled media in two separate sessions. There was really nothing new from Rizzo, rather he just reiterated what he has been saying since the end of the season that he will be working on acquiring starting pitching, bullpen help, and a middle of the order power bat.

During the GM meetings, trade framework between teams take some early steps, and free agent discussions begin with agents. The Winter Meetings begin on December 3 in Nashville, Tennessee. Next week on November 14 is the next big day on the GM calendar for Rule 5-eligible prospects to be protected on the team’s 40-man roster. The Nats have over three dozen players eligible as Rule 5 players. There is former first round pick Mason Denaburg on the list, as well as the newly acquired DJ Herz and Kevin Made who were acquired in the Jeimer Candelario trade. From my faux GM’s chair, I’d only protect Herz of all the players on the Nats list.

Any Rule 5 players not protected are then eligible to be drafted at the end of the Winter Meetings in the Rule 5 draft. The acquiring team must add a drafted player to their 40-man roster and essentially keep them on the MLB roster all year. There are exceptions, and you saw how the Nats drafted Thaddeus Ward last year in the Rule 5, and how bad the results were (6.37 ERA and 1.613 WHIP). Also consider how Ward was generally used in low leverage appearances. You are essentially taking a player who should be in the Minor Leagues and putting that player up against MLB players. It rarely works out — yet teams still do it. The juice is rarely worth the squeeze as compared to claiming waived players like the Nats did with Robert Garcia is the type of move that usually pays higher dividends.

Rizzo spoke about setting framework for future deals at these meetings, and mostly Rizzo is doing a lot of listening to see if there is an offer to good to refuse. He was even asked about re-acquiring Candelario from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. After that session, Rizzo spoke with the assembled media, where he was asked about Stephen Strasburg‘s status, his roster needs, and ownership.

“We’re here to set foundations for future deals. It’s a communication and relationships business, and we’re here to kind of revive some relationships and set the groundwork for deals that we’ll do later in the winter.”

“Again, we’re kind of at the beginning phase of our process, and we’re going to look at the landscape and talk to other teams and agents and then take that back to the ballpark and see where it lands us.”

— Rizzo to Morosi on MLB Network

On trades, Rizzo admitted that it was more about other teams asking about Nats’ players, and you would expect other GMs to ask about Nats players — the same ones that were being pursued at the trade deadline over the summer.

As expected, agent Scott Boras was asked about the status of Strasburg, and he avoided any talk about the debacle that surrounded a voluntary retirement for the Nats’ pitcher.

Obviously Rizzo would be asked about Strasburg, and obviously he gave nothing new on the subject or any revived talks of a voluntary retirement. While Strasburg is back on the 40-man roster per the rules of the offseason that all 60-day IL players must be added back to the roster, the Nats are essentially carrying a player who will never pitch another inning of a MLB game.

In fact, Strasburg has not pitched in an MLB game since June 9, 2022 which is almost 12 years to the debut he made his MLB debut in 2010.

“Medically, it’s going to be difficult to see him pitching again at the big league level. We understand where he’s at physically. We have understood it since last year, so that hasn’t changed.”

“The roster spot is important — but there’s certain rules and protocols that have to be met within the CBA to conclude these types of things when [players] are under contract.”

— Rizzo said in his media session about Strasburg

With nothing new on Strasburg, we can only hope that both sides can come to an agreement on this issue. While carrying Strasburg for the offseason on the 40-man roster takes up a spot, the Nats have plenty of DFA candidates. Matt Cronin was the latest DFA, and if he should go unclaimed in waivers, then the team can outright him to the minor leagues.

In the next several days, the team will have to make 40-man roster move(s) for any players they protect from the Rule 5 as mentioned like a spot for Herz at the very least. Most likely it will be another player who Rizzo believes he can pass through waivers like Cronin. But also, additional spots will have to be opened up for any free agent acquisitions on MLB deals. Once the full spring training camp opens in mid-February, Strasburg, Cade Cavalli, and possibly others will be added back to the 60-day IL to free up spots on the 40-man roster.

The Nats roster crunch is more in the short-term, and other teams are basically in the same boat as they protect Rule 5 players, and free up spots for free agent acquisitions. So who is Rizzo looking for in free agency?

“Like the 29 other of my peers, we’re looking for pitching, starting pitching and relief pitching. You can never have enough of it. We’d like to find a bat to help that group of young hitters.”

“I think change is good. I think that we needed a refresh to a lot of parts of our baseball operations department, and we did. We’ve never been afraid to make moves. … We brought in a lot of good people and I think there’s gonna be a different look and I think it’s gonna be it’s gonna be really effective.”

“[Eddie Longosz] is at the cutting edge of new technologies and analytics. I think that’s going to be a big impetus in our development moving forward. He’s got the type of personality that people want to work for. I think he puts people in the best position to succeed … his leadership is going to exude throughout the organization, and everyone will be on the same page moving forward, and I think we’ll see the results.”

“[Danny Haas] brings vast experience. He’s a hybrid of an [analytics]-driven and boots-on-the-ground scout — the modern scouting director.”

— Rizzo said in his media session

Rizzo did give insight into his new scouting and player development system. Nobody asked him if the moves were to save money, mind you, rather they wanted to know what Rizzo thought of the four new top executives. Nobody is expecting them to make changes that will be felt quickly — but you can expect to see progress next year and especially in the draft.

Again, not all acquisitions will get MLB ready deals. Some players will have to go the minor league route with an invitation to big league camp in Spring Training in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Nationals have not been rumored to any players as of this time. By the Winter Meetings, we will probably have some names of players the Nats are pursuing. Rizzo reiterated that ownership is completely vested in this process of making moves to better the team.

“Financially, that doesn’t come into play. I think it’s, ‘When are you ready to strike, and what player is that guy?’ Those are the two questions you have to answer. Is this the right year — meaning is the right guy there who puts you over the top?”

— Rizzo said

This is just the beginning of the process. Every year there are some early free agent deals that are signed, and also some players that have their plans set early like Rhys Hoskins who just hit free agency and was basically told by the Phillies that they won’t be bringing him back as they don’t have a spot for him. What is so funny is that the Phillies were seen as a favorite a couple of days ago to re-sign Hoskins. So yes, not all teams tied to players are a lock to go there. The Dodgers, Mets, and Yankees cannot sign every player.

While I personally believe that Rizzo should strike early in the process to get a veteran pitcher from the middle of the pack like Michael Wacha, the top players might not sign until long after the Winter Meetings end. In 2010, the Nats shocked the baseball world by signing Jayson Werth on December 5 of that year. So you never know when Rizzo will strike — like last year getting Candelario during Thanksgiving — and signed Trevor Williams just after the Winter Meetings wrapped up.

There was that Christmas deal when Rizzo signed Dan Uggla, and some deals have come together when Spring Training started like the signing of Matt Wieters back in late February of 2017. Mostly, we appreciate the quick strike deals like Rizzo did last year when he got his shopping done early.

If Rizzo is shopping in the luxury aisle, it could take longer — but then again he got Patrick Corbin done at the end of the Winter Meetings in 2018. Rizzo’s finest work was a Plan C option, and he got Daniel Murphy after New Year’s of 2016. The team’s best signing in Nats’ history was when Ted Lerner met with agent Scott Boras to sign Max Scherzer on January 21, 2015 — a $210 million deal that sent baseball down for the count with shock on the enormity of that deal that set records for a contract price at the time. So there really is no pattern as to when the Nats will ink their signature deal of this offseason.

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