Nats shift focus to improving bench, bullpen

At GM Meetings, Rizzo says club pursuing depth pieces

Nats shift focus to improving bench, bullpen

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Now that the Nationals have completed a managerial search and filled most of the coaching staff, they can shift their focus this offseason to filling out their roster. As the General Managers Meetings began Monday in Orlando, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo began the preliminary work for completing his agenda this offseason.

Washington returns most of its starting position players, the top four starters in the rotation and the back end of its bullpen after winning 97 games in 2017, the second most in franchise history. The Nats are also coming off back-to-back National League East titles the past two seasons and should be in position to control the division again. So this offseason will be about fine-tuning that roster to prepare for another run at the World Series championship that has eluded the Nationals.

"I do foresee going after some depth in the starting rotation," Rizzo said. "Going after some depth in the bullpen and some strategic bench pieces that could fit what we're trying to do."

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Two of the Nationals' returning starters are finalists for the NL Cy Young Award -- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg -- and Rizzo said he feels comfortable that their rotation can stack up with anybody else in MLB. So he said he did not plan on pursuing any of the front-line starting pitchers on the free-agent market, such as Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. Instead, he wanted to add more depth in the rotation, likely to compete for the fifth starter while Joe Ross is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and to be prepared in case of injury.

"Right now we go six or seven deep [in the rotation]," Rizzo said. "I'd like to go eight, nine or 10 deep."

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The Nationals also need to fill out a bench with Howie Kendrick hitting free agency and after the team declined the option on Adam Lind. So they will be looking for a few key bats off the bench to replace them both.

A year ago, the Nationals spent all offseason trying to find a proven closer, something they did not accomplish until the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July. But now with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson under contract, Rizzo feels good about the back end of his bullpen. He also citied Enny Romero, Sammy Solis as well as Doolittle as a collection of left-handed relievers he felt were reliable.

So while the Nationals still need help in the bullpen, those additions are likely to come from the right side. Especially considering the uncertain injury history of two of their right-handers, Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley. Both are expected to be ready at the start of Spring Training after injuries cut short their 2017 season, but still Rizzo wants to make sure he builds a deeper bullpen.

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"I think we're in a more comfortable spot right now with our bullpen at this point in November than we were last year," Rizzo said.

Following the GM Meetings, Rizzo is headed to the Nats' complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., to meet with team personnel to further outline their offseason plans. Now that they have filled out their coaching staff, they have time to map out a strategy on building a team for next season.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.