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Nationals seek depth at Winter Meetings

December 6, 2017

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals were not involved in the pursuit of either of the two most talked about players on the market -- Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton -- entering the Winter Meetings, which run Monday through Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Baseball, released

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals were not involved in the pursuit of either of the two most talked about players on the market -- Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton -- entering the Winter Meetings, which run Monday through Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Baseball, released a statement on Friday revealing that the Japanese two-way phenom has chosen to join the Angels. And on Saturday, the Yankees and Marlins reportedly reached an agreement for Stanton, the reigning National League MVP Award winner.
Washington's plan is a bit of a deviation from recent team history, considering a year ago the Nats were seemingly in the middle of everything during one of the most memorable Winter Meetings in club history. They almost certainly will be in the middle of everything a year from now in 2018, with Bryce Harper's free agency looming next offseason.
Hot Stove Tracker
Even though the Nationals do not seem poised for the biggest headline-grabbing move of the week, they would like to begin kicking this quiet offseason into gear. Outside of hiring manager Dave Martinez and overhauling their coaching staff, the Nats have so far not made any additions to their roster.
Washington has the luxury that most of its significant players from last season -- in the lineup and the rotation -- are set to return for a team coming off 97 wins and back-to-back division titles. But there are still areas the Nats would like to address, and perhaps they can begin crossing items off their agenda during the Winter Meetings.
Club needs
Starting pitching depth 
The Nationals are set with the top four starters in their rotation, which they believe stacks up against anyone else in the Majors. However, they also understand that a postseason team can rarely last an entire season without a deep core of starting pitchers. Washington does not have a clear fifth starter, but it has a couple candidates in A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde. Look for the Nats to try and find starters who can fill the back end of their rotation and veterans who can compete for a spot on the team along with their young pitchers.

Right-handed relievers 
This time around, the Nats are set in the back end of their bullpen, but they still need to build a stronger middle relief. With the uncertain health history of some of their right-handed relievers (Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover), Washington seems more likely to focus on righties than lefties, but the club wants to build depth in the bullpen either way to ensure it is a team strength.

This will be the one area of the team that will look almost entirely different in 2018. Howie Kendrick, Adam Lind and Jose Lobaton were all key bench pieces, and they are all free agents. The Nats have a few young players they believe are ready to contribute, but they want to find a mix of veterans as well to complement them and build a strong group.
Who they can trade if necessary 
The Nationals have a surplus of outfielders, and more than a few of them are Major League-ready. They can begin the season with Harper, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor, with Brian Goodwin as a solid fourth outfielder and top prospect Victor Robles waiting in the wings to play every day. That gives the Nats some flexibility with their other outfield prospects Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista, No. 7 and No. 13 respectively per, if they want to make a trade.

Top prospects ranks the Nats' top 10 prospects as Robles, outfielder Juan Soto, shortstop Carter Kieboom, Fedde, left-hander Seth Romero, right-hander Wil Crowe, Stevenson, infielder Yasel Antuna, infielder Luis Garcia and outfielder Daniel Johnson.
Robles, Fedde and Stevenson all seem likely to make some sort of impact in the Majors in 2018. After the Nats traded three of their top pitching prospects during the Winter Meetings last year in the deal with the White Sox for Eaton, it seems unlikely they would be interested in dealing from that list again if they can avoid it.

Rule 5 Draft
The Nationals have 37 players on their current 40-man roster, freeing them up to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft if they should choose to. However, they have not been active the past few seasons.
Big contracts they might unload 
The Nationals do not have any large contracts that they are looking to get rid of.
Payroll summary 
Already trending toward the largest payroll in team history, the Nationals cannot spend freely this offseason. It will be difficult to make any significant additions and remain under the luxury tax, so expect them to remain conservative in their spending this offseason.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.