3 key needs Nats face before Spring Training
WASHINGTON -- It is likely that 2018 will go down as one of the most important years in Washington Nationals history. A season beginning with World Series aspirations ended in disappointment, resulting in a revamping of the roster in an effort to keep that championship window from closing.
The Nationals will look a lot different in 2019 as they aim to get younger, more athletic and more fundamentally sound with the hopes of returning to the top of a competitive National League East. The infusion of exciting, young outfielders in Victor Robles and Juan Soto will headline the position-player group, along with Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon, while a reinforced rotation brings the addition of free-agent left-hander Patrick Corbin. And for the first time since '12, this team could be without Bryce Harper.
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In what has already been an active offseason, the Nationals have a few more items to cross off their winter checklist as the calendar turns to 2019. Here are three things the Nationals need to do before they head to West Palm Beach for Spring Training:
1. The door is still open on Harper, but for how long?
The biggest looming item on the Nationals' to-do list is a resolution on Harper's free agency as his decision carries over into the New Year. It's familiar territory for Washington, because his free agency has loomed over the franchise for years.
While the Nationals have not ruled out a reunion with Harper, they have also prepared themselves for life without him. General manager Mike Rizzo went to work on his offseason plan, independent of Harper's status. He added to the bullpen, catching position, starting rotation and bench, building what should be a competitive team next season even if the Nats do not re-sign their best hitter.
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Now the question for the remainder of the offseason will be whether the Nationals are willing to re-engage with Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, or if will let the 10-year, $300 million offer they extended at the end of the regular season stand.
2. Add to their rotation depth
For a team that already added the biggest free-agent starter on the market, it's unusual for the starting rotation to still stand as such a big question mark. Yet, that is where the Nationals stand after trading rotation-stalwart Tanner Roark to the Reds at the Winter Meetings, creating the need to add one (and maybe two) starting pitchers before the offseason is over. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin will form one of the most formidable trios around the league, but the depth behind them is thin. And earlier this winter, Rizzo proclaimed "starting pitching is king," so he knows the importance of building a strong and deep staff. The Nationals' solution seems likely to come from free agency and they have discussed a variety of names, including left-hander Wade Miley and right-handers Anibal Sanchez and Mike Fiers.
3. Who will play second base?
The Nationals have already explored a few options at second base, reaching out to representatives for DJ LeMahieu, Josh Harrison, Jed Lowrie and Marwin Gonzalez, among others. And there are plenty of options available, from true second basemen such as Lowrie or James Dozier, to versatile players such as Gonzalez, Harrison or Neil Walker. Acquiring a second baseman will allow Howie Kendrick to come off the bench and serve as their top right-handed pinch-hitter, while Wilmer Difo serves as a utility player and strong defender.