- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2020

General manager Mike Rizzo made his intentions clear regarding what he hoped to accomplish this offseason. After a shortened 2020 campaign proved the need for another middle-of-the-order bat, Rizzo was keen to find one, preferably at first base or corner outfield.

The Washington Nationals found an answer to one of their major needs Thursday, trading for first baseman Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Washington sends right-handed pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean in return, two prospects who might help Pittsburgh’s rebuilding efforts.

“We are thrilled to be adding a player of Josh Bell’s caliber to our team,” Rizzo said in a statement. “He adds a switch-hitting power bat to our lineup. And we know Josh will be an outstanding addition to our clubhouse and our community.”

With the addition of Bell, the Nationals secure an everyday first baseman who’s exhibited an ability to hit for power and average since debuting in 2016. He broke out in 2017, playing 159 games while clubbing 26 longballs to go along with 90 RBIs and a .255 average. While he only hit 12 homers in 2018, Bell’s 2019 showing put the 28-year-old on the map.

Bell earned an All-Star selection and competed in the Home Run Derby during a season in which he hit .277 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs. Those numbers catch the eye, even after 2020, when he hit .226 with eight homers.

“I think our top priority in our search, via the free agent market or even the trade market, is trying to get a bat to fill in the middle of the lineup and kind of complement the rest of our middle-of-the-lineup bats,” Rizzo said last week on a Zoom call. “We felt that our best bet would be to kind of surround the guys we have in the middle of the lineup already with some more bats and make our offensive production a little bit more of a priority this offseason.”

Rizzo hinted at the trade market as a possibility to fill Washington’s needs. And while some early attention was paid to a potential deal for Kris Bryant from the Chicago Cubs, Rizzo all but shot down those links. He said he tends to not see much value in trading for a player with only one year left on his deal.

While Bell is arbitration eligible for the upcoming season, he won’t be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2022 campaign. The price to acquire Bell was steep but avoided including right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli — the Nationals’ top two prospects. Crowe ranks No. 3 overall, according to MLB.com, while Yean is the No. 6 prospect.

“Ownership has given me marching orders to put a championship-caliber club on the field,” Rizzo said. “That’s my purpose, that’s my focus, and that’s our objective this offseason.”

Rizzo took a major step toward doing so Thursday. With Juan Soto and Trea Turner anchoring the lineup, Bell figures to space out the production. Aside from Turner and Soto — who both hit well over .300 in 2020 — there was a significant drop-off in offensive firepower.

The Nationals are still expected to add a corner outfielder to the team, and they’ve been linked to a potential trade for Reds third baseman Eugenio Suárez. But Washington made its biggest move so far of the offseason on Thursday, snatching a switch-hitting, power-hitting first baseman in a trade.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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