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Rizzo on 3B for Nats: 'We see it as a strength'

@zachsilver
January 11, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals very well may not be out on Josh Donaldson -- “We’re never out on anything, my man,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Saturday at Winterfest -- but the club believes that no matter what the prized free agent chooses, they have more than suitable options for

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals very well may not be out on Josh Donaldson -- “We’re never out on anything, my man,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Saturday at Winterfest -- but the club believes that no matter what the prized free agent chooses, they have more than suitable options for third base within the organization.

A trio of options within Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Carter Kieboom, the club’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, can slot into a role at that position that “we don’t see it as a hole,” Rizzo said. “We see it as a strength.”

The Nationals were linked with Donaldson almost instantly after -- and partly before -- Anthony Rendon packed his bags and signed with the Angels. As far as free-agent options go to try and replace Rendon, Donaldson is as close as Washington can get in nearly every facet of play.

Latest Josh Donaldson rumors

Signing Donaldson is expected to command a four-year deal worth north of $100 million. The Nationals, Braves and Twins are all believed to have a ticket to the lottery, as it stands now.

But should Washington miss out, it believes it has done its due diligence to put together an infield that has the makings to defend a World Series title.

The Nationals began working on that goal by signing Cabrera and Castro at the onset of January. Both are familiar with the club -- Cabrera was on the team last year and Castro spent the past two seasons with the Marlins in the National League East -- and they bring versatility to play second and third base. Even Howie Kendrick, who was re-signed in December, could take reps there after playing nearly 100 innings at the hot corner when Rendon was injured in 2019.

That's on purpose. The Nationals may not have a steadfast second and third baseman by Opening Day, but by rotating a cast, they think they can get their older veterans more days off while not seeing a drop in production.

“It’s by design that we give our manager flexibility to do what he feels comfortable with that given day,” Rizzo said. “It’s a long season. We needed about [50] players last year to win the world title. This thing takes a village. It takes a lot of players, and you have to have great depth and you have to have players that are willing to accept the challenge of being versatile and using multiple lineups.”

The Nationals have another option, which is easily their most intriguing. Kieboom seems destined to become an everyday Major Leaguer at some point in 2020. Drafted as a shortstop, he’s learned to pick up both second and third base -- positions laced with opportunity in this season.

Rizzo has been rather mum on Kieboom’s chances for being on the Opening Day roster, saying the 22-year-old is still about to embark on merely his second Spring Training.

“Kieboom is unproven there at the big league level, but he is a competent shortstop,” Rizzo said. “And we feel comfortable from what we have seen at the Minor Leagues at third and at second from him.”

Kieboom put on what he estimated as 10-15 pounds since the end of the season, a year in which he got his first taste of Major League action and hit his first big league home run, but ultimately closed the year in the Minors. He never felt down about his demotion, he said, and kept in shape down in Florida as an emergency option for the club's postseason run.

"I'm not even kidding," Kieboom said. "This is the best I've ever felt."

Said Rizzo, "We feel good about where he’s at, and we still think he’s an everyday player in the big leagues that can hit in the middle of the lineups and be a good big league player for many years to come."

Essentially, the Nationals are set to enter the 2020 season with one player locked into an infield position: Trea Turner at shortstop. Even Eric Thames, who was signed in January, can play the outfield in a pinch along with his adopted first base.

Without Donaldson -- or a trade -- the remaining infield positions to Turner’s left and right will be constructed by players with utility on their resumes. The Nationals can make moves during the season if they do not like how that begins to play out, but regardless how their remaining free agency unfolds, they like their team.

“We’re going to be a different team, we’re going to be a very competitive team and our goals haven’t changed,” Rizzo said. “On January 11th, we feel comfortable where we’re at.”

Player health updates

Max Scherzer, who last season battled injuries in his upper back and -- in the World Series -- his neck, reports a clean bill of health. He’s been throwing in Florida since the turn of the new year -- participating in a pitching program meant to help Nationals pitchers adapt to throwing deep into October.

• Turner finally has access to all 10 of his fingers. The shortstop underwent surgery on his right index finger weeks after the World Series after breaking it on a bunt attempt in April. Ultimately, Turner had to correct a bone spur in the knuckle along with the tendon fusing to the bone. Surgery required a 3-D remake by a hand specialist in New York. While it may never be back to fully 100 percent, it’s “2-3 times better,” Turner said, and “any better would have been much better.”

“I might go back to nine if I don’t like it,” Turner said. “I felt last year went pretty good.”

Kurt Suzuki feels unfazed by the right elbow ailments that sidelined him most of September. Besides the typical offseason rehab, he’s given himself just a tad more rest this winter in hopes of eradicating the chance of the injury returning.

Zachary Silver is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Baltimore/Washington. Follow him on Twitter @zachsilver.