WASHINGTON -- The offseason is finally nearing its end and in less than one week, Nationals pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach, Fla. While a few other contenders still have some items to cross off their to-do lists, Washington is in good standing entering camp with a roster
WASHINGTON -- The offseason is finally nearing its end and in less than one week, Nationals pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach, Fla. While a few other contenders still have some items to cross off their to-do lists, Washington is in good standing entering camp with a roster that is nearly set.
But there are still a few lingering questions on the minds of fans, so here's the final Nats inbox before Spring Training begins.
Yes, the Nationals are technically in a solid position if they wanted to strike late as the free agent market continues to stall. Their roster is set, so they do not have any glaring needs, and even though they are near the luxury tax threshold, they seem to have some payroll flexibility if they wanted to add another player. However, they do not seem to have much interest in making another major move.
Last week, general manager Mike Rizzo said on MLB Network Radio that he has not been monitoring the free agent pitching market all that closely. Adding a starting pitcher has not been a priority all offseason and they do not appear to have plans to do so now. In fact, Washington seems very content with the current roster it has assembled. That will include entering camp with A.J. Cole as the projected fifth starter, Pedro Severino as the backup catcher and with a number of bullpen arms with recent injury trouble to fill out their middle relief core.
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Still, this team won 97 games a year ago, and is in position to be one of the favorites in the National League this season. So while the Nats will still be looking for deals with potential value as free agents continue to sit unsigned, unless something falls into their lap that is too good to pass up, I don't expect them to capitalize on the market this year.
As for the Game of Thrones-related part two of your question, I'm trying to hold off on thinking about the show to avoid getting sad about no new episodes until 2019.
Not likely. Raudy Read was at least the fourth catcher on the depth chart entering Spring Training behind Matt Wieters, Severino and Miguel Montero. His suspension could be a setback in his development as the catcher of the future, because he has to miss half a season and is now ineligible for the postseason this year.
The "significant move" you are referring to at catcher is probably Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and not much is new on that front from the Nationals' end. Miami will want a package centered around Washington's top prospects, either Victor Robles or Juan Soto. The Nats will counter with a package focused on their next-tier prospects, Erick Fedde or Carter Kieboom. Neither team has blinked and until then, they are at a stalemate.
Nope. The only players the Nationals expect to start slowly entering Spring Training are Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton. They will be cautious with a few other players, including Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover, who are coming off injuries. But everyone else is expected to be 100 percent healthy when camp opens.
I think it's safe to say that the Nationals' pitching staff is still going to be its strength regardless of who the pitching coach is, because of the track records of the starters in their rotation. Yes, the pitchers enjoyed playing for Mike Maddux and responded well under him, but as Max Scherzer said, a new pitching coach can be a chance to learn.
"I have my routines," Scherzer said at the team's WinterFest. "I know what I'm trying to accomplish. I know what I need to do to get ready for Spring Training. The fun with your pitching coach really doesn't start until about June when you've had a few bad starts and he's made a few bad decisions and you've made a few bad decisions and you can start placing blame on each other."
Evaluating pitching coaches can be difficult, and while I do think Maddux deserves credit, a pitching staff with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Giovany Gonzalez and Tanner Roark would probably perform well anyway. I'm not sure whether Derek Lilliquist is a clear upgrade, but I do think the Nats did well finding a replacement for Maddux. Lilliquist has been a respected pitching coach in a respected organization, the Cardinals, for years. He has helped develop young pitchers and maintain veteran pitchers, something he will have to balance in Washington.
The Nationals are in the market for a new Triple-A affiliate for the 2019 season after the Mets purchased Triple-A Syracuse in October. Washington has its eye on a few different clubs and would prefer to have its Minor League affiliate on the East Coast, something the team believes they can get done.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.