Speaking Tuesday with Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com and other reporters, Rizzo said the Nationals will “make offensive production a little more of a priority this offseason,” and ownership won’t stand in his way to spend on help. Rizzo left the door open for the team to address multiple positions, though he “downplayed” third base and catcher as glaring holes, Zuckerman writes. That could rule out high-profile free agents such as Justin Turner and J.T. Realmuto.
Where could the Nationals look instead? According to Rizzo: “I think we’re versatile in that it doesn’t have to be strictly a right fielder or strictly a left fielder. But a corner outfielder that complements the lineup, or a first baseman, would be the smoothest transition, because those are positions of need. With that said, you can get creative and get a bat in all sorts of ways. And with a little maneuvering, we’d feel comfortable doing it in all sorts of different creative ways.”
The Nationals do have two-thirds of their starting outfield set with superstar Juan Soto and Victor Robles, but it’s unclear who will replace the departed Adam Eaton in the other spot. George Springer, Marcell Ozuna, Michael Brantley and Joc Pederson appear to be the most desirable outfield free agents. It’s unknown whether the Nationals have shown interest in them, but they do have the recently non-tendered Kyle Schwarber on their radar. Schwarber’s production took a huge dip in 2020, but he was a well-above-average hitter in the two prior seasons.
Meanwhile, the stable of free-agent first basemen doesn’t look particularly exciting. Washington did make an effort to sign Carlos Santana, though he wound up with the Royals. Versatile infielder DJ LeMahieu may be able to play the position on a regular basis if given the chance, but the Nats reportedly aren’t going after him. Longtime Nat Ryan Zimmerman (who opted out of last season), C.J. Cron, Mitch Moreland, Tommy La Stella, Jake Lamb and Justin Smoak are some other available names. There certainly aren’t any stars in that group. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be too tall of a task to upgrade over the Nats’ first basemen from last season, as each of Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick managed below-average production.
On the pitching side, the Nationals’ rotation went from one of the league’s best during their 2019 World Series-winning season to a disappointment during a disastrous ’20 for the team. Of course, it didn’t help that Washington had to go without right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who dealt with carpal tunnel syndrome and totaled just five innings for the season. Strasburg underwent surgery in September, but Rizzo expects him to be “full-go for spring training” (via Byron Kerr of MASNsports.com).
Strasburg still has six years left on his contract, while co-ace Max Scherzer is entering the last season of the seven-year, $210MM deal he inked in 2015. That has been among the most successful big-money signings ever, though another agreement doesn’t appear imminent. Rizzo revealed that there haven’t been “any substantive conversations about an extension for Max to my knowledge,” but he added that it “could be on the ownership level” and noted that extensions often come together during the spring.
Regardless of whether Washington extends the 36-year-old Scherzer, he’ll front its rotation with Strasburg and Patrick Corbin next year. The rest of their starting five is up in the air, but Rizzo hinted he will prioritize adding a veteran No. 4 starter after he addresses the team’s lineup, according to Kerr. As for the No. 5 role, manager Dave Martinez named Joe Ross, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde as in-house possibilities. He’s especially high on Ross, saying, “I want Joe to be in the rotation.” Ross opted out of last season over health concerns, but the 27-year-old plans to return in 2021.