Reassessing Washington Nationals' Offseason Plan and Breaking Down What's NextDecember 15, 2014
The Washington Nationals have been decidedly quiet so far this offseason. But with more than two months down and just one trade in the books, it feels like the dominoes are about to begin tumbling down in D.C.
The Nats have a relatively short to-do list this winter—add some depth in the bullpen and the infield and decide the future of some soon-to-be free agents. But now that the winter meetings are over and some of the biggest free agents are off the market, it could be Washington's turn to have a go at the hot stove.
"Different moves beget other moves," general manager Mike Rizzo said at the winter meetings. "It's a very fluid situation. When one move is made, there's usually a reciprocal move that falls into place."
The only deal the Nationals have made thus far is the trade that sent left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers. But that move could be the catalyst that helps bring some clarity to Washington's bullpen.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported earlier this month the Nationals were "likely" to trade late-inning stalwart Tyler Clippard. With the departure of Detwiler and some of this offseason's biggest free-agent relievers now off the board—David Robertson latched on with the Chicago White Sox and Luke Gregerson signed with the Houston Astros—Clippard could now be poised to remain in Washington.
Righty Drew Storen is set to begin this upcoming season as the Nats closer, a role that he earned after putting up 10 saves in Washington's last 11 games of 2014. But Storen's production suffered a severe drop-off in Washington's one postseason series. The 27-year-old registered a 6.75 ERA and one blown save in two appearances against the San Francisco Giants.
Clippard will be a necessary safety net in the event Storen struggles, and MASNsports.com's Brian Eller reports Clippard could even compete for the closer role before the onset of the 2015 season.
"It can't just be one guy in the ninth that’s going to make a good team or a good bullpen. So, I have perspective on that," Clippard told reporters Saturday at the team's annual fan fest. "Some of the innings that I pitched in the sixth and the seventh have been more important than some of those innings I was throwing in the ninth when I was a closer."
Washington could make another move to add depth in the bullpen, but the unit should remain largely intact.
Now, the biggest mystery surrounding the Nationals this offseason remains their starting pitching. The contracts of both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are set to expire following the 2015 season, and it's highly unlikely Washington lets that happen.
In the case of both starting pitchers, the Nationals will either extend their contracts or, if a deal can't be agreed upon, ship them off in a trade.
According to a report from The Washington Post's James Wagner, Rizzo reopened discussions with Zimmermann's agent during the winter meetings, but no such talks have started in Fister's case.
"It was a re-acquaintance, if you will, to talk about philosophies and parameters and that type of thing," Rizzo said.
With Zimmermann in extension talks, the interest around him hasn't cooled off at all. After MLB.com's TR Sullivan reported last week that the Rangers inquired about the Nats starter, Rosenthal is now reporting the Boston Red Sox and "other clubs" have entered the mix.
Each passing day without a new contract for Zimmermann or Fister increases the chances that one or both leaves Washington in a trade. In that event, the Nationals will most likely use them as trade bait to shore up the middle of their infield.
In terms of immediate need, Washington's most obvious weakness is at second base.
Looking ahead, shortstop Ian Desmond's contract also expires in 2015. Without an extension for him, a versatile, young infielder that could moonlight at second and short becomes increasingly valuable for Washington.
The Nationals came relatively close to a move that addressed that need, among others, when they engaged in talks with the Seattle Mariners recently.
In the same report from Rosenthal, he said Washington proposed a trade that included "Zimmermann and Desmond for right-hander Taijuan Walker and shortstop Brad Miller."
That's how close the Nationals came to dealing two of their stars. But somewhere near the top of the rules of the baseball business is a warning to never let a valuable player's contract expire without getting something in return.
"I think you have to have a strategy and a plan to look long-term," Rizzo told The Washington Post's Chelsea Janes. "We're always about trying to win now in 2015 but we also have to have a global view towards the future. We don't want to be just good for 2015 but good on a consistent basis."
According to Rizzo and the general consensus, Washington is poised to make a run at the National League East title this season if the roster remains as is on Opening Day.
But with sustainable success in mind, it would be naive to think the Nationals will be quiet for the rest of the offseason.