Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo met with the media at the Winter Meetings today. As part of that session, he mentioned starting pitching and “another offensive player” as the club’s needs, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. The bat would ideally be left-handed, reports Alden González of ESPN.
The Nats were the worst team in baseball in 2022, after leaning hard into rebuilding mode in recent years. Superstars like Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and Juan Soto were all sent to other teams in exchange for prospects, leaving the club with a roster largely consisting of unproven youngsters and veteran placeholders. As such, there are many areas of the roster where they could easily find upgrades this winter.
The rotation is certainly one of those areas, as they have plenty of uncertainty there. Stephen Strasburg has pitched just over 30 innings over the past three seasons combined and still isn’t sure what he can do in the future. Patrick Corbin still has two seasons remaining on his contract but has seen his ERA climb in four straight years, ending up at 6.31 in 2022. Apart from those two, the other rotation options are limited in experience and have concerns with either their health or performance. Josiah Gray has a 5.17 ERA through 219 1/3 career innings. Cade Cavalli made one MLB start before shoulder inflammation ended his 2022. MacKenzie Gore used to be the top pitching prospect in the sport but lost his command over 2020 and 2021. He got back on track in 2022 but then missed the second half of the season due to elbow inflammation.
Given all those question marks, a solid veteran presence would make sense. This theoretical pitcher could both provide a stabilizing presence for the club while also turning into a trade chip, getting flipped at the deadline for prospects. The Nats aren’t likely to beat the market for highly sought after hurlers like that Carlos Rodón or Jameson Taillonbut they could perhaps look to other options like Ross Stripling, Michael Wacha, Corey Kluber, Drew Rucinski or Drew Smyly.
As for the bat the club is looking to add, the most logical place would be the outfield, given that they have plenty of infield options. Youngsters CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia are likely to get the playing time in the middle infield to see if they can establish themselves as core pieces. As for the corners, the club will probably give first baseman Joey Meneses a chance to see if his rookie breakout at the age of 30 was real. Faded prospect Carter Kieboom could get the bulk of the playing time at third if he seems healthy and on track in the spring. The club signed Jeimer Candelario as a backup plan for Kieboom, although he could also move over to the first base/designated hitter mix if Kieboom continues to struggle. Meanwhile, veteran Ildemaro Vargas is on hand to play a utility role or slot into any position that is vacated by injury or underperformance.
In the outfield, things seem a bit less settled. Lane Thomas seems likely to get one of the spots on the grass after having a decent showing over the past two seasons. His ability to plan center field perhaps spells trouble for Victor Robleswho is a strong defender and has speed but has posted a wRC+ under 70 for three straight years now. Alex Call had a nice debut in 2022 but in a small sample of just 47 games. There’d be plenty of room for a veteran addition here, with the club seemingly preferring a lefty since Thomas, Call, Robles, Meneses and Kieboom are all righties. It’s unlikely that the Nats would beat the market for a Cody Bellinger or a Michael Conforto, since both seem to have plenty of interest. However, veterans like it David Peralta, Kevin Kiermaier or Corey Dickerson can all likely be had on one-year deals without breaking the bank, although those are just speculative fits. Much like the planned addition of a starting pitcher, there’s plenty of sense in adding a veteran to help guide the younger players while also potentially adding someone who can be traded in the middle of the year.
The Nats would surely love to improve on a season where they lost 107 games, but short term contention isn’t likely to be a priority with the holes on the roster and the strengths of their opponents. The Mets have been aggressively spending, including reportedly signing Justin Verlander earlier today. The Phillies are coming off a World Series appearance and have reportedly added Trea Turner. The Braves have locked up most of their young players to extensions and seem poised to contend for a long time. It will be a long climb for the Nats to catch those clubs, which will likely start with some modest moves for 2023.