Among all the rumors and deals circulating throughout this year’s MLB winter meetings, the Nationals have remained a mystery.
Injuries are never a sole excuse for a team that failed to reach its expectations, but the Nationals legitimately lost a lot of firepower during the season, leading to an NL Divisional Series loss to the Cubs.
Center fielder Adam Eaton was lost in April to a torn ACL, and Bryce Harper missed over a month with a bruised knee. Harper returned for the postseason, but he wasn’t quite the same after the long layoff.
The Nationals fired manager Dusty Baker after the season, and replaced him with former Cubs coach Dave Martinez. Washington already boasts a strong lineup, but Martinez still believes there’s room for improvement.
“There’s some things that we’re looking at, some possibilities,” Martinez said Monday at the winter meetings. “Right now on paper we’re pretty solid all the way around. But there’s always, if you can better your team and your organization, then there’s always things you can do.
“For me, my job is to take whatever players we get and build that relationship so they can play consistently on the field. I have to get these guys to compete every day at the highest level. That’s my job, that’s the coaches’ job, we have pretty good people right now sitting in the room, gathering information about players and what our needs are and how well they fit in our organization.”
With the lineup mostly set — assuming Eaton returns for the start of next season — then the Nationals can focus on pitching this offseason. In Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nats featured two of the three finalists for NL Cy Young. Scherzer ultimately won his second straight title. But behind them, Washington has questions in their rotation. Gio Gonzalez returned to form last season, and Tanner Roark came around late, but the team likely needs at least one more starter to round out the rotation.
The Nats’ closer situation was under scrutiny most of last season, but they added Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson before the July 31 trade deadline, and they immediately bolstered the bullpen.
“Those two guys are going to be in the back end of the order,” Martinez said. “There will be some days when Doolittle will have to get a day off and Madson will probably close out a game and so forth. But those two guys will definitely will have people — look, for me, I got seven guys down there, sometimes eight depending how we set the roster, each one of those guys has a job to do, whether it’s the 5th, 6th or 7th inning, their job is to close out that inning.
“And that’s what we’ll be preaching on a regular basis and I know that if we get through those innings, that the back end is pretty solid.”
Though the Nationals have thus far been quiet in the rapidly developing offseason, they could make their first big move at any moment.