The Washington Nationals had their annual “Hot Stove” event on Saturday for top season ticket planholders. With general manager Mike Rizzo and his field manager Dave Martinez giving their state of the union addresses, the takeaways gave a few clues as to the near-term future. They both see this 2024 season as a transitional year to improve over the 2023 season that had the Nats at 71-wins and that was a 16-win improvement over the prior season. Great. “What have you done for me lately” is the common fan retort.
Fans do not feel like the Nats have done enough, so far, during this offseason inking only three free agent players to MLB deals with Joey Gallo, Dylan Floro, and Nick Senzel for a total of $10 million. Additionally, Rizzo drafted Nasim Nunez as a Rule-5 player, and he has no prior MLB experience.
There was no discussion of a status on signing that frontline starting pitcher that was supposed to have been a priority that Rizzo himself set for the offseason. He said this year is a “build-on year.”
“I think you’re seeing everyone’s needs are the same. Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport. We’re no different. You can never have enough of it, and we’re in search of it.”— Rizzo explained at the Winter Meetings in early December
Okay, maybe Rizzo shocks the baseball world with a great free agent signing here from the remaining free agent pitchers. We have certainly discussed this over and over in previous articles, and the pool of available pitchers keeps shrinking.
If Rizzo does not sign a starting pitcher upgrade, the starting rotation will most likely be: 1. Josiah Gray 2. MacKenzie Gore 3. Jake Irvin 4. Patrick Corbin 5. Trevor Williams. Last year, the Nats starting pitchers combined for a team ERA of 5.02. That is not good enough giving up five runs, and needing six runs or more to win games.
“These pitchers knew leaving their exit interview (after the 2023 season) there was no gray area about what they had to do coming into , and if you’re walking guys and throwing deep counts you will be in Rochester (Triple-A).”— Rizzo said at the Hot Stove event
“That point has been made to those guys. Everyone understands: Throw strikes, attack the hitters, work fast, throw strikes, change speeds, and we will have success.”
There were moments during the event that had the fans laughing and playfully booing. But mostly laughing at the more humorous parts, and cheering during the inspiring parts.
A common theme in the discussions is that the team wants to steal more bases because the new rules favor stealing and getting on first base can quickly put you on second or third base, and that is why Rizzo hates giving up walks to the other team because it is like giving a fast runner a double.
The discussion of CJ Abrams as a player who can give you 20 home runs and 60 steals was made by both Rizzo and Martinez. But there has been no indication of extending Abrams’ contract with the team. The team controls Abrams through the 2028 season. If you feel that represents the key window for the team, time is ticking. The time to have extended Abrams was a year ago if you had the foresight and guts to do it at the time.
As usual, Martinez showed his optimistic side and talked up his players. But you have to think he is somewhat disappointed in the current roster where his boss signed bounceback players instead of “sure things”. But when you’re not a playoff contender, it is more difficult to sign those free agents unless you overpay, and that has not happened…yet. With 16-days until the offseason ends, Rizzo and the Lerner ownership group are making it difficult to see this team winning more than the 71-games that the team won in 2023.
To find reasons to stay optimistic, you have to buy-in to what Martinez was trying to sell. He disclosed that he was going to be with the team for a “few more years” at the very least.
“We are definitely-definitely heading in the right direction. I think we’re doing it in the right way. I know it’s paint. But I think once we get these guys — our core guys and our young guys up here — this is going to be a really good and an exciting team for ’24, ’25, ’26, ’27. That’s what we’re looking for to consistently get better every year, and to play in the playoffs for many years to come. So we’re excited about that.”— manager Dave Martinez at the Hot Stove event
Rizzo spoke about beefing up his amateur drafting staff, and promoting Eddie Longosz to run his player development group. Yes, this is where the other positives are in the strength of the front of the top prospect list with Dylan Crews, James Wood, and Brady House. Rizzo spoke about his 23 year old shortstop, Abrams, who he said is younger than many of those top prospects that you see on Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Well, there are 15 of the Top-100 prospects who are 23 years or older. In fact, three Orioles’ prospects in that Top-100 will be 24 or older in Spring Training. That bodes well for these young Nats in their youth movement, and what Martinez said that his team is the youngest team in baseball at the moment.
“We’ve got a lot of really good talented high profile prospects. And that’s great to have. But we also have the underlying prospects like we’ve never had before. The deepest prospect depth that we’ve ever had. And you’re going to see those guys ascend to the big leagues in quick fashion.”— Rizzo said at the Hot Stove event