SAN DIEGO -- Sunday’s rain and clouds pushed temperatures down into the 60s in San Diego. Long jackets and faces were out because of the “winter” weather settling just off the harbor. Crossed arms and raised hoods identified the natives walking down the street trying to manage the rare coolness in one of America’s sunniest cities.
Inside the Manchester Grand Hyatt on the edge of San Diego’s waterfront, signage and bustle alerted everyone to what would begin Monday: Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings were set to open. And, for the second consecutive year, the Washington Nationals are among the preeminent players.
Last year was about Bryce Harper. Loquacious agent Scott Bora stood atop a camera box and in front of a 25-foot tall Christmas tree in the middle of a Las Vegas casino to talk Harper then. The setting could not have been intentionally arranged better. Showmanship, exaggeration, out-sizedness all accompanied Boras’ address last year. He again controls the market heading into this year’s session.
Former -- for now -- Washington Nationals players Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg are among the headliners at the Winter Meetings. They, like everyone else, are waiting on Gerrit Cole. Projections have the New York Yankees checking the coffers for perhaps up to $280 million in order to sign Cole. Once that ends, the futures for Strasburg and Rendon should be hurled forward -- particularly Strasburg.
He’s met with Anaheim, Los Angeles and New York, according to reports. Mike Rizzo seemed unconcerned about those meetings when recently asked if they had talked to Rendon or Strasburg. Rizzo noted the organization has been chatting with both for the better part of a decade.
Also looming over the proceedings are recent comments by Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner. He stated the team can only afford Rendon or Strasburg. Not both. This puts Rizzo in a contorted position for the second consecutive season. Last year, Lerner said he thought Harper moved on. Rizzo soon followed at the Winter Meetings by saying the door remained open for a Harper return. Rizzo will again have to work his way around ownership undermining his negotiation leverage as well as putting him in a place to publicly contradict what was said.
At the least, expectations are for the market to move while baseball’s front office people assemble in San Diego. Zack Wheeler’s early deal with Philadelphia provided hope this offseason would not be the epic slog of 2018-19 free agency, one which left Harper and Manny Machado without employers until winter was thawing. The sluggish offseason made Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel simply unemployed.
The Nationals do have business beyond the heavyweights. Second base remains open. Howie Kendrick is back, but where will he play? They need more bullpen help. What about a left-handed bench bat? Is it necessary? Could it be the 26th man next year with expanded rosters? Is Rizzo preparing for the designated hitter to be adopted in the National League? What’s Carter Kieboom’s immediate future? What’s happening with 2018 first-round pick Mason Denaburg? What’s next for the World Series champions?
The Winter Meetings are back. Washington’s place during the offseason bonanza has never been more prominent.
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