Inbox: What are Rizzo's backup plans?

Nationals beat reporter Jamal Collier answers fans' questions

December 22nd, 2016

WASHINGTON -- The proverbial Hot Stove has cooled off a bit lately for the Nationals, who continue to weigh their options on filling out the closer role. The Nats are no strangers to last-minute Christmas shopping, considering reports of last year's deal with broke on Christmas Eve.

So while nothing appears imminent at the moment, things can change quickly. Still, there's plenty to discuss:

:: Submit a question to the Nationals Inbox ::

Last year, general manager Mike Rizzo had a Plan A and Plan B, but he seemingly settled for Plan C more than once. What are Plans B and C this year?

-- Chris D., Phoenix

It's worth noting that the backup plans for Rizzo worked out pretty well last year -- after striking out on and , they ended up with Murphy, who certainly delivered for the Nats. Now after missing out on several of the top free-agent closers and closers available via trade, it's safe to say the Nats are exploring Plans B, C, D and so on to fill their void in the ninth inning. They will continue to explore their options in the trade market, and I'd bet they still prefer to start the season with someone who has closing experience. Those options are slim, but is still a free agent, of the White Sox and of the Rays could also be available.

Hot Stove Tracker

It's also becoming more and more realistic that the Nats could turn to an in-house candidate. Washington should feel good if it goes into Spring Training with some sort of an open competition for the closer role -- likely between , , and .

I firmly believe Kelley can fit that role. He was one of the elite setup men last year, striking out a career-high 12.4 hitters per nine innings, 10th best in the Majors among relievers who threw at least 50 innings. The only two relievers with a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Kelley's 7.27 were and .

While Kelley is certainly qualified for the job, there are concerns about the health and durability for a pitcher who has had two Tommy John surgeries in his career. The Nats made efforts to limit Kelley's back-to-back outings in 2016 (he still made 16 such appearances), and he would probably never be available for three consecutive games, which is probably a smart rule for any reliever. That consideration and a high home run rate -- Kelley surrendered nine in 2016, which matched a career high -- are reasons the Nationals might be reluctant to use him at closer.

So there may not be a perfect scenario remaining, but the Nats are certainly exploring all remaining options. "We have a lot of lines in the water," as Rizzo has been fond of saying this offseason.

With 's contract ending soon, who do you see as emerging leaders in the clubhouse? ? ? ? Others?

-- Chris D., Phoenix

Another question from Chris, but it's an interesting one. Werth is, in a lot of ways, the conscience of that clubhouse, and losing him will leave a void. Scherzer and are certainly two of the other leaders in the clubhouse, as is Harper, to an extent, although he usually prefers to defer to the veterans with more experience. Newly acquired outfielder is also said to be a strong clubhouse presence, so it will be interesting to see what kind of role he adopts this year.

Will the Nats get free-agent catcher and then use their extra catchers to get Robertson from the White Sox as closer?

-- Jerry M., Hicksville, N.Y.

It's interesting that the Nationals are still being connected to Wieters, considering they seem very comfortable entering the year with as the starting catcher. The scenario outlined above could work out -- especially if Wieters' free agency lasts until some point in January, his potential asking price decreases and the Nats sign him and trade a package that likely includes to the White Sox for Robertson. Still, that's a lot of "ifs."

And I'm just not convinced Robertson is a better option at this point than their in-house options. Besides having closing experience, Robertson posted some of the highest WHIP and walk rates of his career while his strikeout rates decreased. Plus, he's owed $25 million over the next two seasons.