The bulk of the shopping in a quiet Nationals offseason looks to be complete. General manager Mike Rizzo told the team’s beat writers Wednesday the Nats aren’t likely to add any more free agents on guaranteed deals between now and Opening Day (X link via Andrew Golden of the Washington Post). It’s still possible that they’ll add some veterans on minor league deals with spring training invitations.
Rizzo’s comments seemingly close the door on any potential late additions of note to a Nationals club that has been poking around the starting pitching market. “I just couldn’t find that starting pitcher that was going to impact us at this time, for not only the right amount of years but the right salary at this time,” Rizzo said Wednesday (via MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman).
The Nationals have only signed three players to big league deals this offseason — none for more than Joey Gallo’s $5MM (as can be seen in MLBTR’s Contract Tracker). Beyond Gallo, the Nats signed reliever Dylan Floro and infielder/outfielder Nick Senzel to one-year deals worth $2.3MM and $2MM, respectively. They’ve also added outfielder Jesse Winker, lefty Richard Bleier and first baseman/outfielder Juan Yepez on minor league pacts this winter.
As it stands, the Nationals will deploy a rotation including Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin and Trevor Williams. That group combined to start all but 19 of Washington’s games in 2023 — Chad Kuhl, Joan Adon and Jackson Rutledge started the others — a season in which the Nationals ranked 25th in the Majors with a 5.02 ERA and 29th in each of FIP (5.30), SIERA (4.95) and K-BB% (9.7%).
The Nats are surely hoping for better performances from young starters like Gore and Gray, both of whom were lauded as top prospects prior to breaking into the big leagues. Both hurlers posted respectable ERAs with middling grades from fielding-independent metrics, in no small part due to sub-par walk rates and (in Gore’s case especially) struggles with the long ball. Gore is the only Nationals starter who posted an above-average strikeout rate in 2023 (26%). Corbin and Williams are the only two who had better-than-average walk rates (7.2% and 8%, respectively).
Washington also has several more arms on the rise, with the aforementioned Rutledge, lefty DJ Herz and right-hander Cade Cavalli among them. Cavalli would likely have been in the Nats’ rotation in 2023 were it not for a spring elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery.
Rizzo didn’t provide much of an update on Cavalli beyond the fact that his rehab is progressing nicely. An early-summer return seems like a best-case scenario for the hard-throwing 25-year-old, and Zuckerman indeed notes that he’s shooting to be MLB-ready sometime in June.
Rutledge tossed 20 innings in last year’s debut after delivering solid run-prevention numbers between Double-A and Triple-A — albeit with sub-par command. Herz, acquired from the Cubs in exchange for Jeimer Candelario, posted a 3.43 ERA in 22 Double-A starts last year, fanning an impressive 32.4% of his opponents. He too struggled with command issues, however, walking opponents at a grim 13.9% clip.
On the bullpen front, the Nats could be down at least one candidate early in the season. Skipper Davey Martinez said Wednesday that righty Mason Thompson will be shut down for the next two weeks before being reevaluated for an elbow injury (X link via Golden). Martinez conceded that the team is “a little concerned” about the issue but declined to go into further details.
Thompson, 26 next week, has spent the majority of the past three seasons with the Nationals and pitched 100 1/3 innings of 4.57 ERA ball with a 17.8% strikeout rate, 10% walk rate and 50.6% ground-ball rate.