Nats' No. 1 goal? 'Get the best bat we can'

Martinez, Rizzo talk offseason priorities, rotation, more

December 16th, 2020

Halfway through the month of December, the Nationals are eyeing their options to shape their 2021 roster. From infield to outfield, pitchers to catchers, there are spots that need to be filled as the Hot Stove begins to heat up. On Tuesday, general manager Mike Rizzo and manger Dave Martinez spoke with reporters and gave insight into how the Nationals are approaching this winter of transactions.

Offseason priorities
The Nationals are looking to bolster their offense this winter, and they have starting vacancies at first base and in the corner outfield. Rizzo said the team’s “top priority” is to find a bat for the middle of the lineup.

Rizzo: “Our plans going forward are to get the best bat we can. The perfect fit would be at first base or one of the corner outfielders. There was a method to Davey’s madness last year when he put [Juan] Soto into right field for the last couple of games of the season to see how he would adhere to that. … I think we’re versatile in the fact 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. But with that said, you could get creative and get a bat in all sorts of different ways. And with a little maneuvering, we’d feel comfortable doing it in all sorts of different creative ways.”

Martinez: “[Soto] feels comfortable over there [in right field]. I had conversations with him after we did that. He likes it, he loves it over there, he wants to stay there. I feel comfortable leaving him there. But he said he’s willing to do anything to help this team win. If we got another outfielder that played right field, he’d go back to left field. He’s open to do whatever we need him to do.”

Hot corner
The starting third-base job was Carter Kieboom’s to earn in 2020 -- and it still is. Although Kieboom struggled in his first year at the position, Martinez expressed confidence in his abilities to claim the role in Spring Training. One player the Nationals have been linked to in the past is Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, but Rizzo said Bryant is not on their target list.

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Rizzo: “We haven’t had a serious conversation about Kris Bryant in probably two years. He was not a big guy on our radar last year or this year. He’s a great player. But at this point in time with where we’re at and what we have in our farm system and where we’re going, we think we could allocate our dollars and prospect capital in a better way.”

Martinez: “Believe it or not, [Kieboom’s] defense was really, really good. … I’ve got all the confidence in the world in this kid. I think he’s going to be fine, but he’s got to believe that in himself. He’s got to go out there, he’s got to take charge and he’s got to want the job. I’m behind him 100 percent. I’ve talked to him and I’ve told him, ‘Hey, you’re our future third baseman and the future is now. So you’ve got to come to Spring Training and be ready to go. The job is yours, but you’ve got to earn it.’”

Behind the plate
After Yan Gomes platooned catcher’s duties with Kurt Suzuki, the Nationals are ready for Gomes to start the majority of the games in his 10th season. Washington could go in-house with No. 19 prospect Tres Barrera or No. 27 prospect Raudy Read for backup, or explore the trade/free-agent market. Top free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto is in line to garner a massive contract, and James McCann inked a four-year deal with the Mets this week.

Martinez: “I talked to Yan at the end of the season not knowing what’s going to happen with Suzuki. But I told him, you need to prepare to catch 100, 110 games. That’s what I see for him. He’s been working diligently on getting stronger, getting better. … Obviously we’re going to go out there and try to find another backup catcher. We have a couple young guys that are going to come to camp. You never have enough catchers, it’s a tough position. But I really do feel like Yan can go out there every day and handle our pitching staff and play really well.”

Rizzo: “I think Yan’s capable of it. He’s done it on championship-caliber clubs in Cleveland and with us. It’s such a demanding, physically taxing position that we certainly would like to take a little bit of burden off him. But I think he’s capable of playing 90 to 100 games, at least. We’re certainly going to have get him a complement over there. … We’re going to keep all our options open there. We like some of our young players as far as taking over that backup role in the future, but we certainly would like to get a partner to go along with Yan.”

Scherzer and Strasburg
The Nationals' dominant 1-2 starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, are eyeing key 2021 campaigns. For Scherzer, it will be the final season of his seven-year contract. For Strasburg, it will be a comeback from season-ending carpal tunnel surgery in his throwing hand.

Rizzo: "We haven't had any substantive conversations about an extension for Max, to my knowledge. Now that could be on the ownership level. But to my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet. When we get to Spring Training, when we get to see each other each and every day, that sometimes changes. But we’ll keep all our options open. Max is a Hall of Fame pitcher that's earned that respect."

Rizzo: "[Strasburg] was just reexamined on the fourth of December. He's coming along great. He should be full-go for Spring Training. He began his throwing program a couple of weeks ago, and he is progressing nicely."

No. 4 and 5 starting spots
The second half of the Nationals' rotation has yet to be determined for the 2021 season. No. 4 starter Aníbal Sánchez is a free agent, and No. 5 starter Austin Voth was rocky in the role last season. Joe Ross, who elected not to play in ‘20, is eyeing a starting role -- and Martinez would like to see him land one, too.

Martinez: “I want Joe to be in the rotation. … It’s wide open for him. I missed him last year. We could have used him last year. For me, he did what he felt was right, and I back him on that. But I’m glad he’s going to be back with us. He’s got every opportunity in the world -- whether it’s the fifth starter, whether it’s the fourth starter, who knows -- but he’s going to get every opportunity to do that.”

Rizzo: "We've got a couple of different ways to go. It's all about asset allocation, and I think that the moves we do early will dictate that rotation move. I have confidence in the depth that we’ve built here as far as back-end starters.”