Start the countdown. We are 11 days from the calendar turning to the year 2024, and 99 days until the Washington Nationals play in Cincinnati for Opening Day. But what about the roster? It just feels like it is missing the two most important additions that both manager Dave Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo said that the team needed to add this offseason in a starting pitcher, and big middle of the order bat.
“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.”— Rizzo said a few weeks ago at the Winter Meetings
“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.”
There is a lot to digest in that one quote from Rizzo in which he said that he was looking for a bat for “corner infield, and be it third base or first base or DH or left field” because maybe that is the spot that Nick Senzel will fill when you consider that he has played every outfield position, third base, second base, and DH. The only positions he has never filled behind his pitchers are shortstop and first base. But there are still rumors that Rizzo has checked in on Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler, Brandon Belt, and Carlos Santana. Most likely there are others too. J.D. Martinez and Teoscar Hernandez are obvious fits too — but neither have been sourced to the Nats. Well, Senzel and Dylan Floro were not tied to the Nats at any point, and now both are Rizzo signees. Some are desperately trying to align Cody Bellinger with the Nats — but unless his agent, Scott Boras, can talk owner Mark Lerner into that purchase — that ain’t happening. Besides, Lerner is smart enough to know that pitching is the top requirement this offseason.
“Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport. We are no different. You can never have enough of it — and we are in search of it.”— Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings
There’s still the top pitchers available with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jordan Montgomery and two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell all unsigned at the top of the pitching market. Then you have Lucas Giolito (29) 8-15, 184.1 IP, 4.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, Marcus Stroman (33) 10-9, 136.2 IP, 3.95 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, Shota Imanaga (30) 7-5, 159 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP (Japan Central League/Japan Eastern League), Sean Manaea (32) 7-6, 117.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and Michael Lorenzen (32) 9-9, 153 IP, 4.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP.
Okay, that list of starting pitchers is much smaller today, and the Royals of Kansas City grabbed two off the list with Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha in what seemed to be reasonably priced deals — begging the question — what is Rizzo waiting for?
That list compiled from Jeff Passan of ESPN shows the lack of total contracts written. At this point of the offseason, that is nuts. If you removed from that list all of the re-signed players from their departing teams and just limited that list to new signings with new teams, it would be even more pathetic. So it is not just the Nats not signing players, it is basically most of the teams in the MLB. Some are still at zero.
In fact, if you go by MLBTradeRumors ranking of the top free agents, only 8-of-the-top-20 players have been signed, and that means 60 percent are still unsigned as of now. While Shohei Ohtani is off the board, the rest of the pitching market seems to be frozen in place until Yamamoto signs, and his deadline as a posted player ends on January 4. Just about two weeks from that happening. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, his market is seven teams which includes three mystery teams. That is the best part of the whole process with the unnamed mystery teams. For those who might forget, Max Scherzer had mystery teams on his list when he first became a free agent, and the Nats were his mystery team. As the calendar turned to from 2014 to 2015, Scherzer was still unsigned, and out of nowhere the Nats signed Scherzer to stun the baseball world.
Those mystery team signings rarely happen — and that is not to say the Nats are a mystery team on Yamamoto — but if the Nats owner has a little bit of his dad’s DNA that could pull off a Scherzer deal — then you never know. Sometimes you just have to go for it.