With new skipper and coaches, Nats eye field
WASHINGTON -- After not living up to expectations in 2015, the Nationals have been busy trying to improve. They hired Dusty Baker to be their new manager, added three new coaches (Davey Lopes, Chris Speier and Mike Maddux) and revamped the medical staff after 17 players went on the disabled list.
The Nats now turn their attention to improving the team on the field. MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., with the Network launching 35 hours of live coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. ET.
The first order of business is to improve the bullpen, which was the weakest link, especially during the second half of the season. The Nationals need everything from a setup man to possibly a closer. Expect Drew Storen to be traded -- the team has told him the role of closer is not a fit -- and Jonathan Papelbon could be gone, too. But if the Nats want a closer along the lines of an Aroldis Chapman, they likely will have to give up some highly touted prospects, such as right-handers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as some Major League talent.
The Nationals do have some jewels in the bullpen. Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen were used in important situations, though Treinen must learn to retire left-handed hitters. Rivero ended the season as the closer, but he may find himself as a setup man next season.
General manager Mike Rizzo has indicated that he could be looking for a fourth outfielder. Matt den Dekker will be given a chance to win the job, but Rizzo could still acquire another. Free agent Gerardo Parra could be a good fit, as he is a left-handed hitter with a great glove, and he could platoon with Michael Taylor.
The Nationals also find themselves looking for a second baseman, because Anthony Rendon is going back to third base. That would mean the Nats have to do something about Yunel Escobar, who was a solid hitter but a below-average defender at the position. It seems likely the Nationals will trade Escobar in order to get the bullpen help they need.
Who will play second is anyone's guess. Washington has an interest in free agent Ben Zobrist, but Danny Espinosa showed he is no longer an easy out, and that, along with his strong defensive skills, could help him reclaim the position.
"It's always a fluid market for us," Rizzo said. "We like to attack things with the free-agent market. The trade market is always important to us. So we're going to put the best team out on the field that we can. We're certainly not afraid to sign free agents. We're certainly not afraid to make big trades and small trades. There are a million moving pieces that we're thinking about and calling on and that type of thing. So as we get a little closer to the Winter Meetings, things will kind of map themselves out, and we'll see where [we are] at that time."