WASHINGTON -- Welcome to 2018, a year that could be franchise changing for the Nationals. The team released its Spring Training report dates last week, so the countdown toward West Palm Beach has officially begun.
Washington has taken care of a few items on its offseason wish list and has done so at prices and values the team was comfortable with. And yet, there are still several questions lingering as the calendar turns, so it's time for a Nationals inbox to tackle some of them:
How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn't management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?
This is an interesting question and on one hand it's too early to tell whether or not the players will respond to this new coaching staff. No matter how good a staff or manager might look on paper or how qualified they might be, it's difficult to tell what kind of connection they might be able to make with a clubhouse. One sort of positive is that it's not like this will be anything totally new to the Nationals. They have won four division titles in six years, but with three different managers at the helm. It's a veteran clubhouse that understands baseball is a business.
"Any time you don't meet your expectations, that's what can happen to your manager," Max Scherzer said last month at the team's WinterFest. "It's an unfortunate situation, but this is baseball. That's what happens when you play the game at the highest level. Decisions like that can get made. But I think [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] in what he was able to do and find a candidate in Dave [Martinez], he feels like he's assembled a staff that we can go out and compete and really continue to grow.
"I've said this a couple other times, but baseball players, we've always had changes at manager position, change at pitching coaches. I've been through several changes of manager and changes of pitching coaches throughout my entire career."
As for why they did not retain more of the previous coaches, I think it's more important to give your new manager the chance to be involved in the process of building a staff than hiring someone but forcing coaches on him. Plus, if they were looking for fresh voices, having too many members of the old staff around would defeat that purpose.
:: Submit a question to the Nationals Inbox ::
What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?
It's no secret the Nats would like to get more production from their catchers this upcoming season. The most obvious way to do so would be to go acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins, however, the asking price on him seems to be a bit high at the moment. I'm not sure the Nats would be willing to pay the significant prospect package it will likely take in order for them to acquire Realmuto, and I'm not convinced they should be inclined too, either.
The Nats have devised a plan to get more production out of the 31-year-old Wieters this year, by splitting his playing time more evenly with a backup. I like this plan and think it can pay off, especially if Washington lands an experienced backup catcher such as Alex Avila, who they have been reportedly interested in all offseason. Wieters should be due for a better season at the plate than last year, but combining him with a sort of platoon at catcher seems to be the Nats' best bet if they cannot pull off a trade for Realmuto.
For years we've seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?
Yes, actually. Martinez has not revealed much about what his potential lineup might look like, but he has let us in on a few insights. He sees Adam Eaton as the leadoff hitter and he would be open to the possibility of the pitcher hitting eighth. That would pave the way for a "second leadoff hitter" type hitting ninth. I think Taylor fits in that role a lot more naturally than Turner. Turner is probably still better served in the top or middle of the lineup with his ability to change the game on the bases, and you don't want to reduce his number of at-bats too drastically. I think Taylor has the combo of speed and power that can still punish opposing staffs at the bottom of the order, but also can get on base and cause problems before the lineup changes over. So, I would not rule it out and will be interested to see how Martinez begins to configure his lineup.
Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?
I think the Nats do have some interest in bringing back Kendrick after he was so valuable for them a year prior, and Rizzo did not want to close the door on a potential reunion.
"Love Howie Kendrick, love what he brought us in the clubhouse, with the young players," Rizzo said. "He's got a good skill set. It all depends on what value he brings to us. But he's a guy that did nothing but great things for us between the lines and in the clubhouse."
I think the biggest question with Kendrick, 34, will be whether another team can guarantee him more playing time or a more prominent role than the Nationals will be able to. In Washington, he will likely be a backup second baseman and outfielder, and the Nats could use him if Daniel Murphy takes a little longer to recover from knee surgery. The question remains at what price would they be comfortable bringing Kendrick back and what exactly he can command on the open market.
At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?
-- Matt A., Gaithersburg, Md.
Well, the Nats have had a nice offseason so far by bringing back Brandon Kintzler to stabilize their bullpen and signing Matt Adams as a replacement off the bench for Adam Lind. They probably still need at least one more hitter to add to their bench -- either Kendrick or someone else to replace him -- another starting pitcher or someone who can compete to win a spot in the rotation. Washington seems pretty set in the bullpen and it seems unlikely any more major bullpen moves are coming, especially considering the contracts some of the best free-agent relievers have received.