Bryce Harper
The Nationals' ultra-quiet offseason is far from over
Bryce Harper

The Nationals' ultra-quiet offseason is far from over

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 7:19 p.m. ET

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Nationals wanted free-agent closer Mark Melancon, and he signed with the Giants. They wanted to acquire left-hander Chris Sale from the White Sox, and he went to the Red Sox instead.

Their offseason is beginning to resemble last year’s, when they missed on free agents Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Yoenis Cespedes, not to mention their first choice for manager, Bud Black. But if you think general manager Mike Rizzo is panic-stricken, think again.

Yes, Rizzo loves to make a splash. Yes, the Nats are the home team at the winter meetings. And yes, their competitive window is narrowing, with second baseman Daniel Murphy and right fielder Bryce Harper under club control for only two more years.

Their offseason, though, is far from over.


Things turned out OK a year ago, when the Nats hired Dusty Baker as manager after failing to reach an agreement with Black, and signed Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million free-agent contract after failing to land Zobrist and trade for Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips.

The Nats consider themselves a longshot to sign free-agent closer Aroldis Chapman, according to major-league sources; his price likely will exceed their comfort level, and the same probably is true with Kenley Jansen. They also are not certain they want to part with the talent necessary to land center fielder Andrew McCutchen; the Pirates are setting the bar high.

Still, the Nats are undaunted.

They were second in the majors in rotation ERA without Sale last season, so when the White Sox asked for Trea Turner — who would have trumped the Red Sox’s Yoan Moncada as the centerpiece of a package — Nats officials were comfortable saying no.

And while the Nationals loved Melancon, whom they acquired from the Pirates at the non-waiver deadline last July, they did not want to pay him $62 million over four years and include all the other goodies he received — front-loaded salaries, a two-year, opt-out and a no-trade clause. The Nats did not even award right-hander Max Scherzer a no-trade clause in his seven-year, $210 million free-agent deal.

Then again, as Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters Tuesday, “If you’re always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent.”

Rizzo knows this as well as anyone, and he is not afraid to swing big. But the preference of Nats ownership for deferrals in major contracts at times has hindered the Nats in free-agent pursuits.

No matter — all that matters now is how Rizzo reacts to his two early setbacks.

He still holds outfielder Victor Robles and right-hander Lucas Giolito, two of the game’s top 10 prospects according to Both would have gone to the White Sox in the Sale trade, but the Washington Post reported Tuesday night that the team will not offer Robles for any other player — a possible deal-breaker with the Pirates.

Sale was the only starting pitcher the Nationals wanted, sources said — they are not interested in acquiring the White Sox’s lesser prize, left-hander Jose Quintana, or any other starter.

The rest, well, it’s a bit of a jumble.

If the Nats acquire a center fielder, they will move Turner to shortstop. If they acquire a shortstop, they will keep Turner in center field. The addition of a corner outfielder likely would require Bryce Harper to move from right to center. And perhaps most important, Rizzo needs to find a closer — no easy task, with Melancon a Giant, the Cubs close to acquiring the Royals’ Wade Davis and the prices for Chapman and Jansen expected to be monstrous.

The situation is urgent — the Nats have yet to win a postseason series since moving to Washington in 2005. But Rizzo, rather than brood over what might have been, will simply plow forward.

It’s not as if he is out of options, and it’s not as if he is out of time.


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