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Inbox: Will Rendon, Strasburg return to Nats?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers questions from Washington fans
@JamalCollier
November 8, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' offseason was already in progress by the time the team boarded buses for its World Series victory parade. Options were picked up (welcome back, Sean Doolittle and Adam Eaton) and declined (sorry, Yan Gomes and Matt Adams), and a notable opt-out clause was exercised (Stephen Strasburg).

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' offseason was already in progress by the time the team boarded buses for its World Series victory parade. Options were picked up (welcome back, Sean Doolittle and Adam Eaton) and declined (sorry, Yan Gomes and Matt Adams), and a notable opt-out clause was exercised (Stephen Strasburg).

The annual General Managers Meetings run Monday-Thursday in Arizona, where Nats GM Mike Rizzo can begin laying the groundwork for building a repeat champion. But first, MLB.com wanted to gauge the fan base still riding high from its first championship with a Nationals Inbox, checking in before what promises to be a busy and potentially franchise-altering winter in D.C.

What do you think of the Nats chances to get both Rendon and Strasburg back?

— James Tallson (@JTallson) November 8, 2019

I think the Nationals plan to pursue Anthony Rendon and Strasburg this winter. They have the money to get it done, so the budget should not be an issue despite the raises both players are due to earn. Rendon and Strasburg were already two of the Nats' highest-paid players, and players the organization has continued to reiterate it wants to re-sign. The drop-off of talent from them to their replacements is also steep.

Washington has already made attempts to lock Rendon up with a long-term deal, including near the end of the regular season, when it made an offer for approximately seven years and $210 million, although the amount of salary deferrals were uncertain. And the Nats showed a commitment to Strasburg back in 2016 when they signed him a seven-year deal, a relationship that has perhaps only intensified since then, with Strasburg showing more personality than ever this year (smiles, hugs, jokes) en route to being named World Series MVP.

Rizzo builds his team around starting pitchers, so it would be surprising to see him leave such a large gap in the rotation unchecked. And after Strasburg already opted into the organization once, it would not be surprising to see him do so again.

I think the Nationals will almost certainly bring one of their stars back, and I would be surprised to see Strasburg in another uniform next year. That's purely speculative, but above all else, Washington has consistently shown a willingness to invest in starting pitching. Whether it can bring Rendon and Strasburg back remains to be seen. Both players have a strong bond with the organization that drafted them and seem open to continuing their careers in D.C. if the Nationals can meet their asking price.

Who would be the replacement if Rendon leaves?

— Justin (@fringefighter12) November 8, 2019

The options are thin and nearly nonexistent within the organization. Carter Kieboom, the organization's top prospect per MLB Pipeline, has played just 10 games in his professional career at the hot corner. Can the defending World Series champions truly trust a 22-year-old with less than 83 innings at the position to replace its National League MVP Award finalist and one of the best third basemen in baseball? Probably not. Not to mention the other holes in the infield (second base) where Kieboom might be better suited.

The Nationals will almost certainly need to look outside the organization to replace Rendon. There are strong options in the free-agent market -- such as Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas -- but I think the Nats will have to get creative to find help at third base if they cannot bring Rendon back.

what are the thoughts at 1b...zimm back, but a lefty bat...adams, or other? BullPen, bring back hudson? keiboom with kendrick? gomes back as platon? Stras and Rendon are what they are, but other stuff is easier to talk about, right?

— Dan Fredericks (@fmdano74) November 8, 2019

Ah yes, the other stuff. Still masked by the aftermath of their World Series run is the fact that the Nationals have quite a lengthy offseason checklist. Washington has holes at first base, second base, third base, behind the plate, in the rotation and in the bullpen.

My quick thoughts: Ryan Zimmerman will be back, but I think it’s long past the time to expect him to play a full season at first base. Adams has been about average (99 OPS+) at the plate for parts of two seasons in Washington, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nats move on and find another left-handed first baseman for a more full-time platoon role. Success in the playoffs aside, this bullpen was a mess and needs an overhaul, so Washington needs to explore bringing in reliable arms for next year. Howie Kendrick will be 37 next summer and he’s probably better served as a designated hitter. And I wouldn’t rule out a reunion with Gomes, but at a lower price than the $9 million option the team declined last week.

Most importantly, I think the Nationals should be wary of falling into the trap of “winning the World Series and bringing the entire roster back” that has been the downfall of many teams attempting to repeat. A lot of things broke right for the Nats in 2019. I'm not sure it's a smart bet to count on all those things repeating themselves next year.

What is the Nats' likely move at catcher?

— ...!!!... (@PippiNatTalking) November 8, 2019

They’ll need to find someone to split time with Kurt Suzuki, who in 85 games last season, and he was just about a league-average hitter (102 OPS+), even though he had some important hits for the Nationals. Suzuki hasn’t played more than 106 games in any of the past four seasons, and he will 36 when 2020 begins. Raudy Read and Tres Barrera have not proven ready for an increased role on the Major League team, so I’d expect Washington to explore the free-agent market for someone like Gomes, Martín Maldonado, Jonathan Lucroy or Alex Avila to fill the role Gomes had last year.

With the great season turnaround and steering this club to win the world series... how did Davey Martinez not make it as a finalist for NL Manager of the year?

— Cardiac Nats (@macky141414) November 8, 2019

First, let's take a minute to look how far we’ve come. When I took questions for these Inboxes in April and May, most questions about Martinez were calling for his job and his firing seemed like a fait accompli. Now, the Nationals have won the World Series and people are upset he isn’t a finalist for the Manager of the Year Award. Truly remarkable stuff.

Full disclosure here, I’m a Baseball Writers' Association of America member who had an NL Manager of the Year Award vote this season, and my full ballot will be revealed next week when the winner is announced. This was a difficult award to vote for. (Ballots are submitted before the end of the regular season, so the World Series run wasn't taken into account). The Nationals pulled off one of the biggest turnarounds in MLB history, but it’s tough to discern how much credit a talented roster deserves for getting healthy and playing well and how much was due to Martinez's guidance.

With no clear-cut managerial winner in the NL this year, I think we're going to see large differences from ballot to ballot. So while I do understand the backlash from Nats fans when Martinez was not named a finalist (I’ll admit I was slightly surprised), I also see reasons why he was left off, so I don’t think this is necessarily an egregious snub.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.