Jan 6, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
If you’re having a difficult time remembering the Nationals’ most-recent roster transaction, don’t feel bad. It’s been 18 days since the Nats traded Corey Brown to the Athletics for cash considerations, and it’s not like that was an earth-shattering move to begin with.
The Nationals, like most MLB clubs, essentially took two weeks off for the holidays. That makes the final week of December and the first week of January perhaps the deadest time of the year in baseball.
The good news: Winter Break is over. Kids are returning to school. Offices are re-opening. And the MLB teams are back in business, beginning the home stretch of the offseason.
What’s on the Nationals’ agenda for the roughly 38 days that remain until the start of spring training? (FYI: They haven’t yet announced the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers, but it should be right around Feb. 13, give or take a couple of days.)
There are still a few roster tweaks that could take place, particularly on the bench and possibly in the bullpen. Mike Rizzo has said he’s content with the roster he currently has, but that doesn’t mean the general manager wouldn’t make another addition or two if the opportunity arose.
Two positions that could be bolstered: catcher and infielder. While the Nats are willing to show up in Viera with Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder battling to be Wilson Ramos’ backup, Rizzo would add another veteran if the price was right. And while he appears committed to giving Danny Espinosa a shot at winning a spot on the Opening Day bench, Rizzo also could look to bring in another veteran infielder (likely on a minor-league deal) as an insurance policy.
A bullpen move appears less likely, with no fewer than 11 pitchers already in the mix for seven jobs (Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Jerry Blevins, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno, Christian Garcia and Erik Davis). But never assume Rizzo is done tinkering, or that he wouldn’t consider bolstering what already looks like an overstocked relief corps. (Remember last January’s out-of-nowhere Soriano signing?)
Truth be told, Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals front office will probably spend more time over the next month trying to sign guys already on the roster than free agents. There are nine unsigned players on the 40-man roster eligible for arbitration: Storen, Clippard, Blevins, Ramos, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Ross Detwiler.
Those nine players will file for arbitration on Jan. 14; three days later, both sides will officially exchange offers. Some undoubtedly will agree to terms without much haggling, but don’t be surprised if several hearings are scheduled considering how accomplished some of these players are and how willing the Nationals have been to go to arbitration in the past.
And, of course, there’s always the possibility one or more of those players will not only agree to a salary for 2014 but for seasons beyond. The Nationals would love to lock up Zimmermann and Desmond to long-term contracts, recognizing each stalwart is only two years away from free agency.
This is the exact situation Ryan Zimmerman found himself in two winters ago; he wound up signing a $100 million extension after spring training began. It’s not unreasonable to think the Nats could work something out with either Zimmermann or Desmond in the next two months. In a perfect world, they’d strike a deal with each.
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