Nats' GM wants Soto on team for 'long time'

Rizzo talks OF's future, rotation, more at General Managers Meetings

November 11th, 2021

From the mound to the infield and the outfield, the Nationals have numerous areas of their roster to address for the 2022 season. At the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., Nats GM Mike Rizzo addressed the shaping of the team for next year with’s Adam Berry.

Hot-topic contracts
For every season Juan Soto inches closer toward free agency in 2025, the question of a potential contract extension looms larger. Soto, the centerpiece of the Washington organization, was named a finalist for the '21 National League MVP Award this week, shortly after turning 23 on Oct. 25.

“He’s a great priority,” Rizzo said. “And we’d like to have Juan Soto as a National for a long time.”

Shifting from a young slugger to the veteran face of the franchise, 37-year-old Ryan Zimmerman is still weighing a potential return for a 17th big league season. Zimmerman previously said spending more time with his family will factor into his decision.

“I’ve spoken to him a couple of times, but not about baseball,” Rizzo said.

Starting pitching
After being struck by injuries in 2021, the Nationals are eyeing a bounce-back year for their starting rotation in '22. Stephen Strasburg, who underwent season-ending surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, began throwing on Nov. 1. Joe Ross (partial UCL tear in right elbow) is also expected to be ready for Spring Training.

Patrick Corbin and Josiah Gray are poised to return to the rotation, leaving at least one spot to fill. Among the options are a group of Washington's top pitching prospects.

“I think that health is going to answer a lot of that question,” Rizzo said. “We anticipate Stras to be healthy and Corbin to pitch better. And we have JoJo Gray and Joe Ross, and then Erick Fedde and then a list of several good options in the Minor Leagues -- the [Cade] Cavallis and [Jackson] Rutledges and [Cole] Henrys and that group of guys. …

"I think we do have the internal mechanisms to have a good rotation. Will we look outside? Probably. We’re going to look outside, we’re going to do all the due diligence that you have to do and see if something fits for us.”

The Nationals’ first offseason move was re-signing veteran infielder Alcides Escobar to a one-year contract last month. The deal provides flexibility in the field and on the books as the team builds its roster.

“He played really well for us, and I’m glad we signed him early on,” Rizzo said. “He gives us some options. He’s a guy who plays everyday at shortstop if we need him to, but he could also be a utility player if we get a longer-term fit at that position.”

At third base, Carter Kieboom will have the opportunity to earn the starting role, as has been the case the past two seasons. Kieboom, 24, hit .207 and had a .958 fielding percentage in 62 games this year.

“We’re going to give Carter Kieboom a chance to compete for that job, for sure,” Rizzo said. “I think that he made progress in some areas of his game and needs work in others. So it’ll be upon him to perform better to get the job. But as we stand here in November, I think that he’s a guy that I’d like to rely on.”

Center field will be a position to watch after Washington optioned Victor Robles to Triple-A on Aug. 31 and Lane Thomas finished the season as the starter. The Nats have emphasized Robles is part of their future, and the 24-year-old, who batted .203 this past season, could get another chance to return to his NL Gold Glove finalist ways.

“I’ve got high expectations for Victor,” Rizzo said. “His skill set is still elite, and I’m fully confident he’s going to have a bounce-back year and play really good for us.”

Even if Robles gets the nod in center, Thomas still could remain in the starting lineup in left field, where the Nationals have several options.

“We’ve got a list of qualified candidates -- anywhere from Lane Thomas to Yadi [Hernandez] to [Andrew] Stevenson -- and we’re going to be active in the trade market and the free-agent market,” Rizzo said.