Nats team direction and philosophies for the future

The 2023 Winter Meetings is almost over as we enter the third full day of this event. It has been so quiet to this point that Erick Fedde‘s deal with the White Sox for two years and $15 million is the largest deal during this event. Will today be the day?

Yesterday proved so painful for the Washington Nationals after they finished with the fifth worst record in baseball, they were relegated to a 10th draft pick, at best, for 2024 in the first round because they were a lottery pick last year — and wouldn’t you know it, the lotto ball spun up and the Nats would have picked first if they weren’t penalized with the new anti-tanking rules. Doesn’t that just sum things up for the Nats?

Both general manager Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez did multiple interviews at their time at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. What we learned was that Rizzo says he is looking for acquisitions and will be “aggressive” when the opportunity is there. He also said that they will be looking for multi-year deals as long as they aren’t blocking their top prospects.

“We’re not going to block any prospects from playing and developing at the Big League level, but we’re certainly going to try and infuse some talent into the roster to compete at a higher level [in 2024].”

“I think we’re going to spread a wider net than maybe people think.”

— Rizzo said on MLB Network in the first quote and on MASN on the second quote

In multiple interviews, Rizzo made it clear that a goal was to make sure that players they acquire won’t block top prospects. The way you do that is to make sure any acquired player has positional flexibility. The Nats have three top prospects nearing promotion to the MLB with outfielders James Wood and Dylan Crews as well as third baseman Brady House. Martinez also named Robert Hassell III as a player who could be up soon. Add to that, the Nats have corner infielder Yohandy Morales, and centerfielder Jacob Young made his debut this year and could figure into the outfield mix.

In one interview, Martinez reiterated that second baseman Luis Garcia does not have a guaranteed starting spot for the 2024 season. But there does not seem to be a competitor to go up against Garcia unless Carter Kieboom or Ildemaro Vargas move to second base. Who knows, maybe House who was drafted as a shortstop goes to second base. Obviously Martinez and Rizzo have a plan, right?

Those quotes from Rizzo this week certainly seem to back-up everything we wrote in a sourced report over the weekend that named names of a few position players like Jeimer Candelario, Rhys Hoskins, and Jorge Soler that fit needs in the corner infield and DH that both Rizzo and Martinez confirmed while Rizzo went ahead and did name Candelario as a player they are pursuing. While the Cubs are named as the favorites to get Hoskins, we will see what Rizzo pulls off as Martinez was not shy to say that the team needed to add at least one power bat in the middle of the order.

“I’m not supposed to name specific free agents, but [Candelario] is a great guy. We liked what he did for us last year, and knowing that if you want to go after that type of player, you’re going to have to go multiple years. I think we’re prepared to do that also, in the right situation.”

— Rizzo said in an interview

The Nationals are looking for starting pitching where few names have emerged, and Rizzo would not name names. What we found out from a source is that the team is looking at starting pitching that would seed at the top of the rotation. The one name we have repeatedly heard is Michael Wacha, and our sources said if the deal is right, Rizzo could be looking well above that level of a contract. But to be fair, another source said that players have to want to sign with a team that is not a clear-cut contender — and that makes it more difficult in signing top free agents.

The only surprise that emerged was that Rizzo added in comments that the team would like a left-handed outfielder who could play other positions. The most prominent name on the free agent market is Joc Pederson to fit that need. The fact that he could also DH would help. But our sources said this is a much lower priority, especially with top prospect Wood being a left-handed power outfielder.

“We’ve got several holes to fill. We’ve got our work cut out for us this year, and I think we’re going to take our aggressive approach when it suits us and wait for the market when it suits us. I think we’re going to be busy here.”

“I think you are seeing everyone’s needs are the same. Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport. We are no different. You can never have enough of it, and we’re in search of it.”

“I think we’re going to be aggressive again this year looking for a bat that can play the corner infield, and be it third base or first base or DH or left field, or a combination of all three of those, and then we’ll resort back to getting more pitching.”

“We’ve had several meetings and several conferences with different teams, different agents, and kind of moving the ball forward at kind of a slower pace.”

— Rizzo made these comments in a media session on Monday

The Rule-5 draft is this afternoon, and the Nats own the fifth spot. You’d think that Rizzo would sign a player in the first round if there is a player who he covets. There are several big bats available on this list that Baseball America compiled. The rules are restrictive to retaining a player in the draft like Thaddeus Ward who the Nats chose first overall in last year’s Rule-5 Draft. Keep an eye on Troy Johnston from Miami as a lefty bat that the Nats have looked at.

One of the most interesting questions that Rizzo was asked in an interview with Chris Russo yesterday was what he learned in the past that he would change in the future, and Rizzo gave a response that might surprise some of his critics.

“What we could do a little bit different is that we traded away a lot of our prospect capital to win those 5 titles in 8 years from 2012-2019 — and to have even a longer window and a longer-term of [winning] is to keep those [top prospects] and develop your own and try to be more consistent in the way we move our players [up] and hang onto our players — instead of that ‘go for it’ mode, where you’re trading away 2-or-3 prospects to get a piece to win that year.”

— Rizzo said in an interview with Chris Russo

When we posted that quote up on Twitter, some said that Rizzo missed the bigger picture is that if the team drafted and developed better, the farm system would not have gone barren. Yes, the team traded away many key prospects in trades for Doug Fister, Sean Doolittle, and Adam Eaton — but it is hard to argue with winning the 2019 World Series that Doolittle and Eaton were integral parts of. Still, this revelation by Rizzo could prove to be a shift in philosophy that he won’t be emptying his farm for trades.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us this year, and I think we’re going to take our aggressive approach when it suits us and wait for the market when it suits us. I think we’re going to be busy here. We’ve already been semi-busy since we got here, and I think it’s going to be a busy time.”

— Rizzo said on Monday

In a perfect world, the Nats shock the baseball world and make a huge signing today. But many fear the only signing will be a Rule-5 pick. The Nats 40-man roster is currently at 38-players, so there is room to add two players.

With a very quiet Winter Meetings that Rizzo said needed a big signing to get the energy going — we will see if teams get anything going before team personnel leave this afternoon or if there is an overnight signing before the Winter Meeting signage gets taken down in Nashville tomorrow.

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