Nationals

Whether or not Harper returns, the Nationals roster is just about complete

Nationals

By the time Mike Rizzo showed up at Nationals Winterfest on Dec. 1, he had signed the top free agent pitcher, acquired two relievers and obtained two catchers. He joked the front office is filled with impatient people.

When Rizzo held court in his white-walled Las Vegas hotel suite two weeks later, he explained the organization held its Winter Meetings before the actual Winter Meetings. That statement preceded a final day trade of starting pitcher Tanner Roark, which prompted a Dec. 27 signing of Anibal Sanchez as a replacement.

Here now, just before mid-January, Rizzo added a second baseman and presumably wiped one hand over the other to signify the status of his roster. Everything of merit independent of Bryce Harper’s decision is done a month before spring training. Don’t tell Rizzo the offseason is slogging along.

The wait for Harper becomes a little more comfortable thanks to all the moves. Rizzo took swift action, which included adding five former All-Stars to the roster. He fixed the problem at catcher, dropped the most money of the offseason to square up the rotation, and stacked two new relievers into the high-leverage portion of the bullpen.

Harper reportedly will meet with the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday in Las Vegas. That meeting is not a surprise. Waiting until the middle of January for it to happen is emblematic of the slow-moving market for him and Manny Machado.

Once Harper sits down to make his final decision, he, like the rest of the league, will have a clear picture of what the Nationals intend to put on the field in 2019. A depth chart, without Harper, will look something like this:

Catcher: Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki

First base: Ryan Zimmerman/Matt Adams

Second base: Brian Dozier/Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick

Shortstop: Trea Turner/Wilmer Difo

Third base: Anthony Rendon

Left field: Juan Soto/Michael A. Taylor

Center field: Victor Robles/Michael A. Taylor

Right field: Adam Eaton

Starting rotation: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Ross/Erick Fedde

Bullpen: Sean Doolittle (CL), Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Wander Suero, Matt Grace, Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, Koda Glover.

Thursday’s signing of Dozier could bump a fellow infielder off the final 25-man roster. Difo offers defensive versatility. Kendrick, expected to be recovered from a torn Achilles tendon in time for the start of spring training, offers a reliable bat and clubhouse presence the Nationals would like to retain. There’s flexibility here with the bullpen (though, remember Solis is out of options) and because of all-around depth in the field.

The starting rotation is not as deep, and signing Sanchez to replace Roark only increased that issue. Sanchez threw 136 ⅔ innings last season and hasn’t cracked 157 since 2015. His lack of volume work should provide opportunity to whomever loses out in the competition for the fifth spot: Joe Ross, who signed a one-year deal Thursday to avoid salary arbitration, or Erick Fedde.

What remains is finishing the spring training invite list and closing down contracts for arbitration-eligible players. Rendon, Turner, Taylor and Barraclough are up for new one-year deals via arbitration. The Nationals have a longstanding preference of avoiding arbitration hearings, which can become contentious. The last time Washington went to a hearing was with reliever Jerry Blevins in 2015. Anticipate new deals -- and raises -- for everyone in the group by Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline.

Those moves are small because they are expected. Rizzo clocked out the big ones during the Nationals’ time as the most active team this offseason. He can join everyone else on Harper’s wait list now.

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