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Inbox: What's next on busy Nats' to-do list?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers fans' questions
December 5, 2018

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have been among the most active teams in the Majors this offseason, addressing if not crossing off several items on their checklist before the Winter Meetings begin Monday in Las Vegas.So far, they have added two catchers and two relievers, and they are on the verge

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have been among the most active teams in the Majors this offseason, addressing if not crossing off several items on their checklist before the Winter Meetings begin Monday in Las Vegas.
So far, they have added two catchers and two relievers, and they are on the verge of inking the best free-agent starter on the market after agreeing to a six-year deal with left-hander Patrick Corbin on Tuesday, a deal which is still pending a physical, according to a source. And yet, there still could be more additions on the horizon for Washington and notably a resolution for Bryce Harper, who still looms in free agency.
Today's Nationals Inbox will take a look at what lies ahead for the rest of the Hot Stove season as general manager Mike Rizzo continues to try and build this team back into a postseason contender.
What's next? Another arm, perhaps a starter like Charlie Morton, J.A. Happ or Derek Holland? A left-handed-hitting infielder? More relief?
-- @givens57 via Twitter

Taking a step back, it's impressive to consider what the Nationals have already accomplished. They could not afford to let this offseason pass without addressing their needs at catcher and in the rotation and bullpen, and they have done something in all three areas. That being said, they are almost certainly not done.
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The rest of Washington's additions are likely to be minor but important moves. The Nats need to find a backup first baseman, preferably left-handed hitting, to complement Ryan Zimmerman and help round out their bench. They will probably attempt to add more pitching help, both in the bullpen and rotation, but they will likely focus on improving their depth instead of looking at the top-tier free agents available at those positions. And I expect they will explore the second-base market. It's unclear which of these moves the Nationals will focus on first, but I think they will attempt to address all of them.
But first, I expect Washington to get an updated sense of the market for Harper. Club brass is likely to meet with Harper's agent Scott Boras at some point during next week's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, and perhaps the Nats will take the opportunity to meet with Harper, as well.

I wrote about this after the Corbin signing, and I really don't think it's going to change much in either direction. Put it this way, the Nationals have committed about $43 million to the five players they have added this offseason -- Corbin, Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. But they gained about $62 million from last year's payroll when they lost Giovany Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Madson, Matt Wieters, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Kintzler and Matt Adams. They are approaching the expected luxury tax threshold of $206 million, but to sign Harper they are likely going to need to exceed that for a third straight season.
• Latest Harper free-agent rumors
I still believe both sides will circle back at some point this offseason to re-engage conversations of a potential contract, and I do not think the Corbin signing will have much of an impact on the Nats' thinking.

This is the question I have for the people who argue to let Harper walk. He is not a player without faults, but consider his final numbers from 2018, the first half of which was dominated by headlines from the worst slump of his career: 34 home runs, .393 on-base percentage, .889 OPS, 135 wRC+ with 103 runs scored and 100 RBIs. That's pretty good for a "down year."
Washington will not be counting on one player to replace that production, and few players in baseball can. Instead the Nats will be leaning on a huge offensive upgrade at catcher, a full season of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and a full, healthy season from Adam Eaton to fill in the gaps left by Harper's departure. It's why I would argue they need to be in the market for help at second base as well to help improve a lineup that would be losing perhaps its best hitter. The addition of Corbin will also help cancel out some of the wins lost with Harper. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen.

Probably not. Starting pitching is so important to Rizzo, and it's the foundation upon which he wants to build a success club. The Nats' rotation is better with Corbin, and the top three of he, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg might be the best in the National League. But it is still short of depth. Tanner Roark has been inconsistent for the past few years, and Joe Ross is coming off Tommy John surgery. Other than Erick Fedde, who has yet to find any extended success in the Majors, there are few Major League-ready arms in the organization. I assume the Nationals are going to explore more depth signings in the rotation going forward, but think closer to Jeremy Hellickson than the top-tier free agents available.

If the Nats could have their way, Howie Kendrick would prove ready to go during Spring Training and become the primary second baseman. Perhaps Wilmer Difo makes some strides at the plate as well and they form a nice duo to keep the position warm until Carter Kieboom, the club's second-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, continues his progress in the Minors and gets enough reps to feel comfortable playing second base everyday.

I think the Nationals are trying to upgrade their bullpen, and while I have not heard anyone single out a lefty reliever specifically, I would guess a left-hander would be preferred. Washington entered last season with question marks in left-handed relief outside of closer Sean Doolittle, but the Nats were confident because the rest of their setup men had pretty even career splits. The matchup lefty reliever is sort of quietly going away, and more teams are counting on relievers to throw a full inning regardless. So I think the Nats are going to look for an upgrade at reliever, regardless of what hand he throws with, and if a lefty comes along who they like, they will be more inclined to pounce.

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