We’re back with our first edition of the 2022 Mailbag series. Today we tackle your questions as the Nationals enter the final few days of May. If you want your question to be answered in next week’s mailbag, make sure to @ us on Twitter @HalfStHighHeat
“Should Davey and Rizzo be on the hot seat?”
As we all now know, last week a report came out that both Dave Martinez and Mike Rizzo are each in the final guaranteed year of their respective contracts. Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Washington is expected to pick up Rizzo’s option for the 2022 season. As for Martinez, the Nationals reportedly have until the All-Star break to decide if they want to pick up the managers’ $4M option for next year.
Regarding if either, or both, should be on the hot seat, I’d say not yet. It’s not Martinez’s fault that the Nationals rolled out one of the worst rosters in baseball this season. When Alcides Escobar, Maikel Franco, Aaron Sanchez, and Cesar Hernandez were most of your significant offseason acquisitions, I don’t care who the manager is, you aren’t winning many games. Sure, Martinez makes some questionable decisions, as does every manager in baseball, but I don’t believe you can pin more than 5% of the blame on him for the poor results achieved so far this season. The team simply is not talented enough to compete.
Things are a little more complicated when you talk about Mike Rizzo. It’s pretty clear that Washington’s ownership did not give Rizzo much flexibility this offseason. The Nationals have a team payroll of a little over $130M this season, about $40-50M lower than what Rizzo is used to working with. I don’t believe Rizzo should be on the hot seat yet, but next offseason is where he needs to go to work.
If the Nationals are going to be anything close to a contending team next season, they’ll need to make some serious upgrades in free agency this winter. If the Nats do make some big-time moves and they turn out poorly, then I could see Rizzo being on the hot seat, but for now, I think his job is fairly safe, even if a new ownership group comes in.
“Should/Will the Nationals trade Josh Bell”
No, the Nationals should not trade Josh Bell, but yes, I believe they will. Even after cooling down considerably over the past two weeks, Bell is still having an All-Star caliber season. The first basemen is slashing .296/.376/.420 with 8 2B, 4 HR, 25 RBIs, and a .796 OPS. Bell ranks in the top six among all first basemen in batting average and on-base percentage and is in the top ten in hits and RBIs.
One thing Bell has not done is hit the ball out of the park at the rate he did last season, but that likely will come as the weather warms up. Bell still has a chance to produce a 22-25 HR, 80-85 RBI season with an OPS over .800, a very good showing going into free agency for the first time in his career.
Unfortunately, I really don’t see him being a part of the long-term plan in D.C. Washington had the entire offseason to approach Bell with a potential extension and declined to do so. This makes me believe they are set on dealing him at the deadline and hoping to get some decent prospects in return.
It’s the wrong decision, but I see Bell playing for another team come August.
“Who are some potential free agents the Nationals could target to help retool their team this offseason?
While it’s certainly way too early, here are a few names I think the Nationals could target and why.
OF Brandon Nimmo
1B Jesus Aguilar
SS Dansby Swanson
Nimmo would be a solid addition for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a true leadoff hitter, something the Nationals currently do not have in their organization. Second, he’d be able to come in and immediately start in LF or CF and provide good offense and decent defense.
If the Nationals do trade Josh Bell, they’re going to need to bring in a starting first basemen in the offseason. Aguilar is just one of the few names they could choose from, but the 31-year-old is a good hitter and could provide some pop in the middle of their order.
I don’t see the Nationals being serious players in the Carlos Correa or Trea Turner sweepstakes, but I do think they’ll be in the market for a shortstop. If it’s not Correa or Turner, Dansby Swanson could be a realistic option. The 28-year-old is a very similar player to what Ian Desmond was. He can hit for power, plays very solid defense, but does strikeout a lot. Javier Baez, who is basically an upgraded version of Swanson, got a six-year, $140M deal last offseason. I could see Swanson getting somewhere around a five-year, $100M deal this winter, and I think the Nationals could have some legitimate interest.
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