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Wrapping up the Winter Meetings

Dec 10, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT

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NASHVILLE — The Nationals arrived for the Winter Meetings four days ago with plenty of uncertainty surrounding their bullpen, interest in adding a left-handed bat and questions about the potential for them to do something really dramatic.

They departed the Winter Meetings on Thursday morning with slightly less uncertainty surrounding their bullpen, the same level of interest in adding a left-handed bat and continued questions about the potential for them to do something really dramatic.

On the surface, it may appear like the Nationals accomplished very little at the Opryland Resort. They made no official transactions, aside from taking former first-round pick Zack Cox (a third baseman in the Marlins’ organization) in the Class AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft.

But they did come to terms with right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on a contract that includes a $2.5 million salary in 2016 and then a $3 million club option (with a $500,000 buyout) for 2017, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. That contract should be announced within the next few days, giving the team a new long reliever and spot starter who can fill Craig Stammen’s old role.

The Nationals also continue to work on a deal with reliever Shawn Kelley, though the source said those negotiations are not finalized. If the two sides can work it out, Kelley would join the bullpen as a right-handed middle man and possible set-up man, perhaps taking the role Aaron Barrett had before tearing his elbow ligament.

Combine those potential additions with last week’s signing of veteran lefty Oliver Perez, and the Nationals have made some significant strides toward rebuilding their relief corps.

The two biggest bullpen questions, of course, remain unresolved. The Nationals have been listening to offers for Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen but haven’t come close to dealing either right-hander, a source said. So much hinges on what happens with those two disgruntled relievers, and all options remain in play. Both could return in 2016, only one of the two could be retained or both could be gone. This remains general manager Mike Rizzo’s biggest — and most challenging — task of the offseason.

“I think it’s been consistent,” Rizzo said of the interest level in Papelbon and Storen. “There’s a market for relievers. As we’ve seen with the free agent signings, the reliever market is booming. There’s a lot of teams looking for relief pitching.”

In their search for another left-handed bat, the Nationals have come up empty so far. They were aggressive in pursuing Ben Zobrist, offering the prized free agent more than the $56 million he wound up taking from the Cubs according to a source familiar with the negotiation. They looked into Neil Walker before the Pirates dealt their second baseman to the Mets for left-hander Jon Niese. They could still find that bat elsewhere, whether in the form of another second baseman like Daniel Murphy, an outfielder like Gerardo Parra or someone else via trade.

“In a perfect world, the lefty bat is important, but we want to improve our club,” Rizzo said. “The balance in the lineup is an aspect, but it’s not something that’s the end all and be all. We’d like to be more balanced, but if we have a quality player that improves our lineup and improves the club, then we certainly are going to look at all avenues of it.”

As for a surprise, dramatic move … well, the fact Rizzo admitted making an offer for right-hander Mike Leake (who is projected to receive something in the realm of $80 million) provided a bit of a window into the Nationals’ thinking. They might not be serious about Leake, but it should be clear they’re open to adding another prominent starting pitcher to a rotation that doesn’t necessarily need one.

“It’s not a necessity for us right now, but we’re always in the market to improve the ballclub anyway we can,” Rizzo said. “If we have to strengthen a strength or try to refine a weakness, there’s different levels and different strategies going on at the same time.”

To use one of Rizzo’s favorite lines, the Nationals have a lot of irons in the fire. Who knows what will emerge out of all that, but if the general manager is true to his track record, the Hot Stove League won’t flame out simply because the Winter Meetings have come and gone.

  1. bababooeytoyouall - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    I don’t know. Seems like a pretty lackluster showing by Rizzo. My gut tells me the Nats window has mostly closed. They had their best chances 2013 – 2015 and have zero playoff series wins to show for it.

    Perhaps they don’t need anything splashy (if you attribute the 2015 disaster most to injuries), but I’m worried. Jayson Werth is aging, Escobar may crash and have nowhere near the career year he had, Roark might still be flustered by being jerked around, Zimmermann’s plantar faciatis might flare up, Rendon is still fragile and injury-prone until proven otherwise.

    • Ellie - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:20 PM

      The whole idea of a ‘window’ really only works when you’re a team that likes to buy big free agents or fail to scout well and spend money too riskily. The Nats have done that a little, but for the most part, they’ve got young players either in the draft or via trades and developed them. That’s a formula for long term success, not just a short window.

      • npb99 - Dec 10, 2015 at 5:02 PM

        Window just means that at some times a team may have more talent than at other times. Due to aging, FA losses, etc, there are windows where a team has a better chance to win. This isn’t a theory of management, it’s a fact of personnel talent.

    • scbilly - Dec 10, 2015 at 4:02 PM

      Well Escobar returning to form isn’t our risk any more.

  2. langleyclub - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:15 PM

    Updating the Nats’ Pen (assuming 7 bullpen pitchers and no further player movement):

    RHP

    Petit
    Kelley
    Treinen
    Storen
    Papelbon

    LHP

    Rivero
    Perez

    Others in the mix:

    RHP: Rafael Martin (who I like), Abel Del Los Santos, Eric Davis, Roark (if the Nats acquire Leake or another starter), or converting a hard throwing minor league starter: Voth, Lopez or even Giolito.
    LHP: Solis, Grace. Nick Lee

    Obviously, the big issue is who will close for this team if they trade Papelbon. I know many have closed the book on Storen, but he has been among the best MLB closers for long stretches. I wouldn’t have a problem with Storen closing next year once Pap is traded as I don’t see the Nats acquiring a more accomplished closer at this point with Kimbrel and Chapman off the market.

    • veejh - Dec 10, 2015 at 3:25 PM

      No way I want Storen closing another playoff game……ever.

    • jfmii - Dec 10, 2015 at 4:40 PM

      Unfortunately, even at his advanced age, Papelbon is a better choice than Storen for closer (tendencies to choke MVPs aside)

  3. trfwans - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:20 PM

    People still think that Rizzo is content to enter 2016 with a rotation of Max, Stras, Gio, Ross and Roark. The Leake flirtation puts the lie to that. He’ll acquire more starting pitching. And he’s not trading Stras.

    People also still think that Rizzo is “shopping” Pap and Storen. Not true either. He’s not moving either one of them unless and until he has their replacement under contract.

    • langleyclub - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:29 PM

      There have been reports that Rizzo is shopping Pap, and there are handful of teams interested. The holdup is that those teams have been offering a bag of balls and asking the Nats to pick up most of Pap’s salary. That’s not going to fly.

      If a team agreed to take on all of the Nats’ salary obligation for Pap, he would be gone tomorrow for a PLTBL, regardless if the Nats had another closer under contract (unless you are counting Storen as the closer).

      • trfwans - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:55 PM

        Dream on.

      • jd - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:57 PM

        langley,

        I have always felt that the Nats would have to eat all or most of Paplebon’s salary and get little in return in order to move him. I still feel that it’s addition by subtraction. I think Storen can close and I think bringing in several veteran pitchers who aren’t likely to implode ALA 2014 will help.

  4. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:54 PM

    I see the offer to Mike Leake in the same context as I saw the offer to Ben Zobrist. If they had acquired either of them on the free agent market, it would have given them the latitude to trade one their SPs or INFs for a need that’s not (or no longer) available on the free agent market (e.g., a top-quality closer or set-up guy). But you’re not going to trade a Yunel Escobar or a Wilmer Difo or a Tanner Roark or a Joe Ross — all of whom might bring an specific, needed return — until you’ve filled their spot. Not every need can be met on the free agent market, so sometimes you have shuffle things around to set yourself up to make a trade.

    • jd - Dec 10, 2015 at 12:59 PM

      Eugene,

      I agree with you. I think signing Leake or someone else who is relatively proven gives the Nats an opportunity to shop Strasburg and see if we can convert him into say a young almost ready left handed power hitter + fill other needs.

      • trfwans - Dec 10, 2015 at 2:00 PM

        Not happening. Just like trading JZ or Stras last year after they signed Max didn’t happen.

      • jd - Dec 10, 2015 at 2:20 PM

        trfwans,

        Glad you are using last year as an example. How did that turn out?

  5. Sven - Dec 10, 2015 at 3:53 PM

    Interesting addition in Zach Cox.
    Does he mash on City. isle with
    Or without Drew Ward or join
    Matthew Skole in Cuse ???

  6. natsrule - Dec 10, 2015 at 3:54 PM

    MLB.com reporting trade of Yunel Escobar to Angels for a reliever described as hard-throwing right-hander Trevor Gott.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 10, 2015 at 4:12 PM

      Gott was a rook last year, so he’s a hard throwing right handed, with five years of control… And the defense behind all of our pitchers just got measurably better… 😃

      • unkyd59 - Dec 10, 2015 at 4:17 PM

        Holds career record for saves at Kentucky

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