There was no such juggling this year.

Last season against the novel coronavirus pandemic was a stepping stone for the Nationals. Some of this, like the rash of free agents, was expected. Other elements, such as the cuts in the front office, made it difficult last week in the scouting department, minor league operations and the research and development team. And next comes the free hand and the promise of more postponement. Washington finished the game 26-34, his first losing record since 2011. In September, as that record was taking shape, Rizzo vowed to stick with his approach of mixing a large group of seasoned veterans with a growing young core.

“A good mix of exciting young players and seasoned veterans was our recipe for success from 2012 to 2019 and we will take steps to adhere to our philosophy,” said Rizzo at his last press conference of the season. “But I think we have to get a squad that can handle the rigors of a 162-game season and then an extra month of play.”

Once the Nationals re-add Joe Ross and remove Stephen Strasburg, Starlin Castro and Seth Romero from the 60-day list of injured, their 40-man roster will be 30. This includes 10 starting mugs, eight reliefs, two catchers, six infielder and four outfield. The obvious holes are a starter behind the rotation, a second catcher and a bat in the middle of the order, which can occur at the first base or at one of the corner outfield points. It should be noted that the calculation will change when Rizzo gets into discussions for Star Catcher JT Realmuto.

But the corner field is arguably the lowest position in this class of free agents. George Springer, Michael Brantley, Marcell Ozuna, Joc Pederson and Nick Markakis are each on the open market. Springer and Ozuna would likely charge more than four years and high salaries. Brantley, a production metronome, is 33 years old and could look for a shorter offer. Pederson, a left-handed Los Angeles Dodgers, should be the cheapest of the top tier.

This much is clear for the Nationals: Juan Soto needs a partner in the flesh of their line-up. In 2019 it was Anthony Rendon. In 2020, after Rendon left for the Los Angeles Angels, it was a mix of Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick and Castro. Cabrera’s production took a nosedive after a few weeks of the 60-game schedule. Kendrick was in and out of the lineup with hamstring problems. And Castro – who, unlike Kendrick and Cabrera, will definitely return next year – broke his wrist in August and has appeared in just 16 games.

“It’s really different to have Howie Kendrick behind me,” Soto said in late September. “At the beginning of the year, I didn’t know how different it was. My punch coach would tell me, “Hey, you need Howie right behind you.” I was not expecting that. I said, “You will still speak to me.” And then I realized that they often accompanied me on purpose. And then I said, “All right, I need someone behind me.” ”

Soto has been run 12 times on purpose, mostly in baseball. He also finished with 13 homers, topping all bats in base-plus-slugging percentage and base percentage, and winning the National League slugging title. The Nationals moved him to right field towards the end of the season, a point where Soto was more comfortable than left. Manager Dave Martinez then quipped that they might test Soto in hopes of adding a free agent left fielder soon.

The Nationals have to open up the first basic market one way or another. Her four first basemen in 2020 – Kendrick, Cabrera, Ryan Zimmerman, and Eric Thames – are all free agents. And even if they bring back Kendrick or Zimmerman or both, they usually want a left-handed power bat there. Switch hitter Justin Smoak has had a tough 2020 with Milwaukee Brewers, which means he could be a low-cost acquisition. Jake Lamb, a left-handed player, can play first and third. Derek Dietrich, Brad Miller, Carlos Santana (switch-hitter), Neil Walker (switch-hitter), Daniel Murphy, Cabrera, and Thames are all available, though there is only so much they can do to fill an offensive void.

With a strong racket and starter at the top of their list, the Nationals have already ticked a few boxes. They signed a one-year $ 1 million contract with utility company Josh Harrison in October. And most importantly, her bullpen is in pretty good shape. You could use a left handed man and another tried and tested arm. But when Tanner Rainey, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, and Kyle Finnegan return, they can focus on padding their bullpen instead of building one.

This leaves one starter to complement Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in the rotation. For the past two years, Aníbal Sánchez had signed a two-year contract for $ 19 million. A replacement could come in a similar form – a reliable veteran towards the end of his career. Charlie Morton and JA Happ fit this profile. Marcus Stroman, Jake Odorizzi, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, and Rick Porcello are younger options among others, though they’ve battled a mix of injuries or inconsistencies in recent years.

Rizzo, who will be on the clock from Monday, has a lot to sift through.

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