The Nats leave Nashville with a full 40-man roster and lots of questions

There were so few signings in Nashville at the Winter Meetings that most teams besides the Yankees (Juan Soto), Diamondbacks (Eduardo Rodriguez), Reds (Jeimer Candelario) were the only three deals that amounted to teams spending over $30 million. That was it. Nobody reached even over $80 million in the Winter Meetings even though we all know that the Shohei Ohtani $500+ million sweepstakes could be completed by this weekend. But in the end, 20+ teams did practically nothing — the Washington Nationals being one leaving Nashville on the light side. Sure, they were “in” on Candelario — but were trying to go two-years with a team option at most.

What the Nats did was use their two vacant 40-man roster spots for a Rule-5 bench signing, and sign a former Reds top prospect to a one-year deal. Yes, general manager Mike Rizzo picked Nasim Nuñez in the Rule-5 draft yesterday, and then after it was apparent that the Nats were not getting Candelario, the Nats pivoted to Nick Senzel.

If you remember in 2018, Senzel was the No. 7 ranked prospect by Baseball America out of that 2016 draft, probably the worst draft class in baseball history if you look at the Top-30 picks that included Carter Kieboom. If you look at Senzel and Kieboom, their career WAR values are both at -1.8 per BBRef. Not good at all. The Reds selected Senzel at No. 2 overall in that draft, and debuted in 2019 and turned in the best season of a career that has been decimated by injuries and so-so results with a career OPS of .671 for the 28 year old Boras client. Senzel comes with team control as he was non-tendered with two years of team eligibility remaining.

Per Jon Heyman of the NY Post, Senzel’s deal is worth $2 million with a $1 million performance bonus. It is a low risk deal for the Nats, and gives them a player who can play all outfield positions, third base and second base. But he’s never played more than 110 games in a season. The right-hander will get another chance in 2024 with a change of scenery. But what that means for Kieboom, who is out of options, could come down to a Spring Training competition.

Reading the tea leaves, the weak third base market in this year’s free agent class only has one blue chip player remaining with Matt Chapman, and nobody expects him to sign with the Nats. So that would mean Rizzo probably is set at third base until Brady House is ready for his MLB debut.

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].”

— Rizzo said on MLB Network this week

That Rizzo quote about not blocking any top prospects might hold true in the outfield too. They do need a left-handed outfielder as their five outfielders of Lane Thomas, Stone Garrett, Victor Robles, Jacob Young, and Alex Call are all right-handed and so is top prospect Dylan Crews. The Nats have two top prospect outfielders in James Wood and Robert Hassell III, and you wonder if Rizzo will look for a one-year deal on players like Joc Pederson, Michael Brantley, Eddie Rosario, Austin Meadows, Jesse Winker, and Travis Jankowski at the top of that heap. Only Pederson would push the needle and he is rumored to have a deal in place already with another team.

While the Juan Yepez signing was not on an MLB contract, he will be in Spring Training and hopes to make the roster. What works against him is that he is a poor fielder in the outfield, and first base or DH would be where he would fit. Being a right-handed batter does not give him a platoon advantage, and that all makes him a long-shot especially since he struggled with a .546 OPS last season with the Cardinals.

Of course the Nats big bat could come from first base or DH with Joey Meneses in one of those spots. Rizzo spoke to needed that one big bat in the middle of the order, and the team still needs that signing. With the 40-man roster now full when Senzel becomes official, any additional acquisitions will require a roster move to open up a spot. There are still candidates to cut like Joan Adon, Amos Willingham, Israel Pineda, Jeter Downs, Alex Call and Jake Alu. Of course Stephen Strasburg‘s spot is still taking up space — but Rizzo did not want to discuss that when asked at the Winter Meetings. The team’s No. 1 goal is to sign a top of the rotation pitcher — and that is the one move to feel like the Nats have a chance if the right pitcher is signed.

So here we are leaving Nashville with the same questions we had last week, and last month, and in the last place.

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