With Stephen Strasburg back in D.C., three more priorities for Nationals’ offseason
SAN DIEGO — News of the Nationals’ record-setting contract with free-agent pitcher Stephen Strasburg had been live on Twitter for only a few scant minutes, but in this moment, Mike Rizzo — the team’s GM and architect of the ground-breaking deal — was all by himself, riding an escalator up from the lobby of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel.
The solitude didn’t last long, though.
Rizzo paused one floor up, trying to figure out whether he was in the right spot for the Awards Luncheon — he was a floor too low, still — and when he stopped to look at his phone for guidance, a wave of well-wishers caught up to him. Congrats and hearty handshakes ensued, even as the ever-growing group lurched toward the luncheon room. Nationals manager Davey Martinez was in that throng, too, and he was bear-hugging anyone and everyone who was within arm’s reach.
It was a joyous scene, all thanks to a reported seven-year, $245 million contract given to franchise icon Stephen Strasburg, the right-hander who started his time with the organization as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and most recently added a World Series MVP trophy to his resume.
When the offseason started and free agents were ranked, two Nationals — Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon — were in the top three, along with ex-Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole. The idea that both Strasburg and Rendon could potentially become ex-Nationals threatened to steal a little bit of the joy of that recently won World Series title. Not all of it, of course, but it would have at least dulled the shine.
But now Strasburg’s back in the fold. The Nationals have Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin atop the rotation, the best rotation trio free-agent money can buy. Scherzer, of course, has been worth every penny of the seven-year, $210 million deal, and Corbin was pretty great in 2019, the first year of his six-year, $140 million contract.
The Nationals still have a lengthy to-do list this offseason, though. The NL East just might be the most competitive, compelling division in baseball in 2020. The Braves have made a flurry of moves to complement their young core. The Phillies signed Zack Wheeler. The Mets, well, still have Jacob deGrom and Pete Alonso.
So what’s next for the Nationals? Start with these three things.
1. Bring back Rendon, too
Yes, it seems mildly insane to think that the Nationals could dole out a SECOND contract worth north of $200 million in one offseason, but it’s possible. And be confident, that’s what it will take to bring Rendon back into the fold, too. He’s an elite third baseman who finished third in the 2019 NL MVP vote, doesn’t turn 30 until next June and hit .328 with 21 RBIs and five homers in Washington’s 17 postseason games. That’s one hell of a resume.
Rizzo was asked about that during his Monday afternoon press conference, as he was sitting next to Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras. Oh, and Boras is Rendon’s agent, too.
“When you look at the history of the Nationals and the way we’ve positioned ourselves, the details of the contract and the way that it’s structured, this ownership group has never shied away from putting the resources together to field a championship-caliber club,” Rizzo said. “I don’t see this in any way hindering us from going out there and getting elite players in the game. I think that Anthony Rendon is one of the players who is near and dear to my heart, a guy who was drafted, signed and developed and has turned into a superstar, with playoff success and a key part of the championship run we went on. He’s a guy we love. Ownership has always given us the resources to field a great team, and we’re always trying to win.”
Signing Rendon, along with other necessary additions, could bring the Nationals close to the luxury tax. Asked whether exceeding that was a possibility for ownership, Rizzo said he hadn’t yet discussed those parameters with the Lerners.
2. Lock down Sean Doolittle
The Nationals picked up the final option on a deal the lefty signed with the A’s in 2014, and he’s set to become a free agent after the 2020 season. Doolittle has been a big part of what they’ve accomplished, on the field — 75 saves and a 2.87 ERA in two-and-a-half years with the club, plus a 1.35 ERA in 12 postseason games — and in the clubhouse. He’s a guy they’d love to keep around, and heading into his Age 33 season, they should be able to do that at a reasonable cost for a couple of years.
3. Fill in the other blanks
On the Nationals’ MLB.com depth chart, third base is empty. That’s being held for a possible Rendon reunion, or maybe a shorter deal with Josh Donaldson. But the spot on the other side of the diamond is open, too, and the bullpen has more than a couple of openings.
Not that those things were on the back-burner, but those spots/decisions take a step up on the priority list.
“Suffice it to say, (Strasburg) was an important deal for us to get done,” Rizzo said. “It’s kind of a stepping-stone at the beginning of our offseason. … We’re kind of checking off all of our needs and all of our wants in the offseason.”
Howie Kendrick has reportedly been re-signed, to a one-year deal. He’ll play first base, and it’s possible/likely that Ryan Zimmerman will be brought back, too, though at a significantly lower amount than the $18 million option the club declined after the World Series.
They’d like to bring back reliever Daniel Hudson — that’s a lot of “bringing back” but that’s what happens when you win a World Series. Remember, they also brought back catcher Yan Gomes, on a two-year deal.
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