The Washington Nationals' 2015 season did not end the way anyone had hoped as a roster loaded with talent failed to even make the playoffs. Now with the team already losing Jordan Zimmermann and likely to lose Denard Span and Ian Desmond to free agency, general manager Mike Rizzo has his work cut out for him this winter.
Finding players to add to the roster, however, has proved easier said than done.
The Nationals have been in the running for several big name free agents, but have thus far failed to coax any of them to come to Washington. The most recent example is Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward who chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
"It was a disappointment obviously that we didn't land Jason who's a terrific player, a great citizen and an all-around good guy," Rizzo said. "But those things are expected. We have alternative plans for everything that we get done and for things that we don't get done so we wish him well and we'll certainly make arrangements to improve the roster other ways."
The team made what Rizzo said was "competitive market value deals" for Heyward, infielder Ben Zobrist and relief pitcher Darren O'Day, all of whom chose to sign elsewhere.
Despite the misses so far in free agency, Rizzo is unconcerned. He said he was in contact with "several players" who could serve as potential replacements for Span in the outfield. He also said the situation in the infield is not quite as dire as some may think.
"We still have very good depth in the middle infield," Rizzo said. "We've got two young players [Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo] and [Danny Espinosa] that's a veteran player. We like the skill-set of all three of them and we would feel good about going to spring training with those guys."
One place in which the Nationals have not "struck out" this offseason is relief pitching. The team's bullpen was a mess last season and fixing that was clearly a priority for Rizzo who has thus far has acquired Trevor Gott and Shawn Kelley.
"Trevor Gott is a very aggressive young controllable right-handed pitcher," Rizzo said. "He's got mid to upper 90's velocity, got good movement on his fastball. We took a good look at his delivery and the way he attacks hitters and it was something that we really liked and we think that he's going to be a major factor for us not only this year but down the road too. ... Kelly's another aggressive right-handed pitcher that attacks hitters. He's got a really good sinking fastball and a wipeout slider in a guy who's pitched leverage innings for different teams, proved that he could do it in big markets like New York City and was great with the Padres. We liked what we saw when he pitched against us at times and our scouts really liked he's demeanor and his aggressive nature on the mound."
The team further supplemented the bullpen by signing Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit, the latter of which Rizzo confirmed on Saturday was a done deal pending a physical.
"[Petit]'s a terrific Major League pitcher," Rizzo said. "He's a good swing guy, started games for a world championship team, pitched leverage innings in playoffs. He's battle tested and really gives the manager a lot of freedom and diversity. He can start, he can relieve, he can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, he can spot start for you and he can be in the rotation for you."
For a team that has made the playoffs only twice since coming to Washington in 2005 and has never won a playoff series, the pressure is starting to mount on Rizzo to show results. Because of that, do not expect Rizzo to sit back quietly this winter and watch big names pass the Nationals by. He has proven aggressive in free agency this offseason, though largely unsuccessful, and indicated more moves were to come.
"We're just out scouring and looking for players that help improve the roster and make us a championship caliber club."
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