With the Washington Nationals‘ season coming to a close much too soon, there will be much speculation over what moves Washington should make, which is always going to be different from what deals they will make.
GM Mike Rizzo has gone on the record saying he is going to focus on first hiring a manager to replace Davey Johnson, and he will then turn his focus to improving the bench and bullpen and focus on extending some of the Nationals’ young guns in Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. Rizzo has been able to pull off some nice deals before, such as the contract he signed Gio Gonzalez to after acquiring him, which runs through 2016 with options for 2017 and 2018. That deal has Gonzalez receiving a pay raise in 2014 ($8.5M), 2015 ($11M) and 2016 ($12M). Needless to say, there should be a lot of confidence that Rizzo will get a deal done with Desmond and Zimmermann, and the deals will be team friendly and player friendly.
Rizzo is also masterful when it comes to hiding his intentions from the media and fans. Obviously, improving the bullpen and bench are givens as bullpens and benches usually change yearly with most teams with teams trying to catch lightning in a bottle with their bench players, and Washington could certainly benefit from a more veteran presence on their bench since young players are not usually the best of strategies to go with. None of us, obviously, know Rizzo’s true plan for the Nationals’ winter, at least not until Rizzo makes the move nobody saw coming.
A move Rizzo could make may involve the winning pitcher of last night’s tiebreaker game: David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay does not have the money to keep Price long term, unless Price decides to give the Rays an insane hometown discount. Tampa Bay would certainly accept that, but the franchise has become baseball’s great “pitching factory,” forever being able to absorb pitching loss after pitching loss. From James Shields to Matt Garza, the Rays just keep producing cheap, young pitching talent and are almost always able to sell when these pitchers are at their highest value.
Now, at first glance, it does not seem Washington could be a fit to acquire Price. Their farm system is not what it used to be, and the Rays usually talk in prospects they get back showing varying interest in immediate returns, like major league talent. Tampa Bay lives and dies by the arbitration clock, as we saw this year with Wil Myers, whom they could have called up a day or two earlier and may not have had a tiebreaker game last night.
Washington does have some young players they could flip, however. The emergence of guys like Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan has shown Washington still has some young pitchers to deal, and they probably have even more upside than Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock, whom Washington previously traded for another big name left hander. Combine that with the fact that the catcher getting the lion’s share of at-bats for the Rays is Jose Molina, and Jhonotan Solano or Sandy Leon make sense as two young catchers that could pair up nicely with Jose Lobaton for a solid platoon or simply a really good catching tandem for a team in the Rays who love depth. The Rays closer, Fernando Rodney, is also 36 years old, and as much as it pains me to say it, the Nationals could send any of their three top relievers in Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, or Tyler Clippard as well to headline a nice package of players for the Rays.
By no means am I implying that Washington is a shoe-in to acquire Price. But it does deserve to be acknowledged that the Nationals could be a dark horse to acquire him, and they do, in theory, have the chips to send Tampa Bay to acquire Price. Washington matches up much better than people think, and it should not be a shock if they do acquire him. Remember, Rizzo loves to play close to vest and fly under the radar, and this is just the move he could make.