- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

Limited news is good news for the Washington Nationals.

General manager Mike Rizzo didn’t have many updates Thursday during a conference call with reporters, but Nats fans will like what he did have: Right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg will be “full-go” during the offseason and into spring training. Same with right-handed reliever Shawn Kelley, Rizzo said.

Other than that, Rizzo stuck to his approach of not revealing much.

The Nationals lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in five seasons. This time, it was a 3-2 National League Division Series defeat against the Los Angeles Dodgers after going in front 2-1. The loss will only add to the Nationals’ reputation of a being well-run organization that succeeds in the regular season, but can’t figure out the postseason.

Notably absent from that series was Strasburg. He would have been even more valuable than usual against the Dodgers. Strasburg is the Nationals’ most effective pitcher against left-handed batters. The Dodgers were loaded with left-handed hitters. Not having Strasburg because of a strained flexor mass and partially torn pronator tendon thinned the Washington rotation considerably. Strasburg worked diligently to try and return in time for the playoffs. He didn’t make it, but Rizzo said the right-hander will not need surgery this offseason and is expected to be ready for spring training.

Outside of catcher Wilson Ramos, who had surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament Oct. 14 and is a free agent, no other Nationals player will need offseason surgery, according to Rizzo. That includes reliever Shawn Kelley, who left the mound in the playoffs with an arm injury that caused him to lose feeling in multiple fingers on this throwing hand. Rizzo labeled him the same as he did Strasburg, saying Kelley, who signed a three-year deal last offseason, will be ready for spring training.

Rizzo said Trea Turner is an “every day player” but would not commit to where he would be playing every day. The choices are center field, shortstop or, the most unlikely spot, second base. He said Turner’s versatility gives the team options when working on the roster this offseason. He also said the same of Bryce Harper’s ability to play right field or center field, though he pointed out, “I like Harp in right.”

Asked multiple questions about why Harper went through such a significant decline the season after being named the youngest unanimous MVP in league history, Rizzo deflected. He mentioned that he would not be losing sleep in the offseason thinking about Harper. “I’m not going to worry too much about it,” Rizzo said.

He lauded the job closer Mark Melancon did after arriving in a July 31trade. Melancon is a free agent in what will be a very expensive closer market at the high end. He, the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and the Chicago Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman will each be free agents. Washington’s in-house closer options are limited. Blake Treinen and Kelley could receive consideration. In the past, closer has not been a spot that the Nationals have spent large amounts of money on. That has led to almost annual turnover at the position. Rizzo called this offseason’s closer market “broad” and “deep.”

The main roster questions for the Nationals next season are shortstop, closer and catcher. They could give Ramos a qualifying offer, which would project to around a one-year deal for roughly $17 million, though that seems unlikely considering he may not be ready to play until midseason next year. Outside of Ramos, young Pedro Severino and veteran Jose Lobaton are options at the spot. Turner could be moved to shortstop to replace Danny Espinosa, an elite defender who struggles at the plate and is arbitration eligible. That would open a chance for the Nationals to spend on a free agent in center field.

Rizzo said Ryan Zimmerman will continue to be the team’s first baseman.


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