November 2018

What’s Next For The Nationals In Free Agency?

Welina hou (welcome back) to Hawaiian born catcher and ex-Nat Kurt Suzuki! Photo via WJLA.com

This offseason’s hot stove of free agency is hot and burning, and before the biggest names of the offseason have decided where to play for the 2019 season and likely beyond, the one team which most baseball analysts are keeping their eyes on the most has been the most active early. The Washington Nationals have issued some of their biggest needs early, by acquiring reliever Kyle Barraclough from the Marlins, signing Trevor Rosenthal to a one year deal, and signing old friend, catcher Kurt Suzuki, to a two year contract. Coming off of a disappointing 2018 season, it is clear that the Nationals are not done quite yet. When considering the next move for the Nationals, you have to consider whether Mike Rizzo will try and re-sign Bryce Harper, or stick with an outfield of Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton. Based on these recent early signings, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Rizzo decides to go after Bryce in a last-ditch attempt to keep him, especially with Victor Robles more than ready to take on an MLB starter’s role. So what should the Nationals do from here?

 

For this scenario, I will assume that Bryce Harper, unfortunately, will not re-sign with the Washington Nationals. To eliminate some of the pain from that last sentence, he will sign with the Chicago White Sox. The first need that the Nationals should take care of is starting pitching. Aside from Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the starting pitching core was pretty much a dumpster fire. Gio Gonzalez had the worst start to a season as he’s ever had as a National, and was flipped to Milwaukee for two prospects at the waiver trade deadline, to naturally become 2012 Gio again to help lead Milwaukee to Game 7 of the NLCS. Tanner Roark finished the 2018 season with a 4.34 ERA, and Jeremy Hellickson had a good season, but nothing spectacular. The Nationals desperately need a starting pitcher from the free agency class of 2018. I would have suggested the Nats flip Luis Garcia and Michael A. Taylor to Seattle for James Paxton, but he was already flipped to the Yankees, in exchange for a hefty payment including former #1 prospect Justus Sheffield. And since the Yankees seem to be the personal choice of top free agent starter Patrick Corbin, I think that Mike Rizzo should sign Dallas Keuchel. The 2015 AL Cy Young winner didn’t have a season quite up to his standards in 2018, but he has a proven past and was very similar statistically to Stephen Strasburg. Keuchel is also entering his age 31 season, meaning that he is right in his prime and is ready to take on the challenge of being a starting pitcher in the National League. That means the Nationals would have a rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Dallas Keuchel, Joe Ross, and Tanner Roark.

 

Roark, after his disappointing 2018 campaign, may be best fit for the bullpen, and the Nationals potentially would want to explore a fifth starter in the free agent market. The Nationals may want to pursue, dare I say, Matt Harvey for that fifth starter role should they decide to turn Roark into a long man out of the pen. Other alternatives to the off-field mess that is Matt Harvey could include Brett Anderson, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, or old friends Doug Fister, Edwin Jackson, Marco Estrada, or Bartolo Colon, who started his career as a Montreal Expo. I, for sure, would love to see Big Sexy in a Nationals uniform, and I’m sure baseball fans collectively want to see him back in the National League for more at-bat yuks. Most likely, however, the Nats will keep the rotation as is, and if necessary, acquire a starting pitcher during Spring Training or during the beginning months of the season.

 

Mike Rizzo has said that he is not looking to acquire a second baseman this offseason, staying put with the tandem of

Will the Nationals pursue former infielder Asdrubal Cabrera in free agency? Photo via Washington Post

Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick. Kendrick was out for most of 2018 with a serious leg injury, and Wilmer had another fine season at second base. I, however, see Kendrick as more of a Kevin Frandsen-type versatile utility player, and Wilmer Difo is still strengthening his skills for a starter role in the future. Carter Kieboom isn’t quite ready for the Majors this year, and he should be sent to Fresno for the season. So with that being said, a veteran infielder who can be signed for just a one year deal would be ideal in this scenario. I think that the Nationals should then go after another old friend, Asdrubal Cabrera. Although only with the Nationals for half of the 2014 season, Asdrubal may be a perfect fit to fit into a half-and-half combination with Difo. Signing a player like Cabrera also allows for him to fill in at other infield positions when a player needs a day off, and allows Difo to get his starts as well.

 

Now, the catcher position. Mike Rizzo may be done with his catcher acquisition after signing Kurt Suzuki for the next two years. However, Matt Wieters is a free agent, and I’d be absolutely stunned if Rizzo decided to bring him back. So the way things are set up now, the MLB catchers for the Nationals next year will be Kurt Suzuki and Pedro Severino/Spencer Kieboom, with Raudy Read starting the year in Fresno. No, the Nationals will not be acquiring J.T. Realmuto, as much of a perfect fit he may be. Brian Samson, GM of the Marlins, is reportedly asking for a Soto/Robles PLUS Kieboom for his catcher, which is a definitive no from the Nationals. Of course, it is rumored that the Nationals have considered taking another chance on Wilson Ramos, the catcher who was a Nationals stalwart from 2011-2016. Frankly, I was surprised by the signing of Kurt Suzuki, because I was expecting the Nationals to go after Ramos. But now that they have a potential starting catcher who started in 83 games for Atlanta last season, do they recreate the 2012 battery by acquiring Ramos? I’d say no. While the catching spot needs a desperate upgrade, Spencer Kieboom showed signs of promise when he was up last season, and it would save money to do what I think that Nats’ next priority should be.

 

I believe the Nationals should extend 3B Anthony Rendon. Photo via New York Times

That would be to extend Anthony Rendon. He very well may be the most underrated player in all of Major League Baseball, and still has not an All-Star Game appearance to show for it (how?). Rendon was a bright spot on a rather dreary Nationals team last season, and he has been since he broke onto the scene in 2013. He deserves every penny he will get from the organization, and plays a key position where the Nationals don’t have any blue chip prospects, and is at the tender age of 28. He definitely should be extended for the next 8-11 years.

 

I think the Nats should also claim Justin Bour off of waivers, because he is a left-handed backup first baseman who can hit for power, like a Clint Robinson who hits a little better. He’s also from Centreville, so he would be coming back to play for his hometown team if he joined the Nationals. With that being said, here’s what I expect the Nationals’ Opening Day roster to look like–

 

C- Kurt Suzuki

1B- Ryan Zimmerman

2B- Asdrubal Cabrera

3B- Anthony Rendon (Extended in offseason)

SS- Trea Turner

OF- Juan Soto

OF- Victor Robles

OF- Adam Eaton

SP- Max Scherzer

SP- Stephen Strasburg

SP- Dallas Keuchel

SP- Joe Ross

SP- Tanner Roark

RP- Jefry Rodriguez

RP- Koda Glover

RP- Trevor Gott

RP- Justin Miller

RP- Trevor Rosenthal

RP- Kyle Barraclough

RP- Sean Doolittle

BN- Spencer Kieboom

BN- Wilmer Difo

BN- Howie Kendrick

BN- Michael A. Taylor

BN- Justin Bour

 

Although we all want Bryce Harper to re-up with the Nationals and remain the face of the Nationals for his entire career, the team the Nationals would be able to field would be arguably more well-rounded than the 2018 iteration, and are poised to take back the division crown in 2019, even without Bryce Harper. The team above could definitely beat the Braves in a battle for first place in the National League East, just a matter of injuries. Let me know @MattsBats on Twitter how you think the Nationals should address their biggest needs this offseason!

Dear Bryce Harper…..

And just like that, the rollercoaster of emotion known as 2018 MLB Free Agency has officially begun, with the Boston Red Sox being crowned world champions over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Some teams have gotten a head start with their offseason ; the Miami Marlins made a huge splash signing Cuban phenoms Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa, Jr, two names that are sure to terrorize NL pitching for years to come. The Washington Nationals also made a trade in October, addressing one of their biggest needs by acquiring relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough from the aforementioned Marlins in exchange for international bonus pool money, which the Marlins used to sign the Mesa brothers, and taking a gamble by also signing menacing relief arm Trevor Rosenthal in free agency. But for the Nationals, more work needs to be done to make up for a disappointing 2018 season. The Nationals’ main job this offseason will be to try and lure free agent Bryce Harper back to the Nation’s Capital.

 

Harper has been the face of this franchise since he was drafted first overall by the Nationals back in 2010, after he had graced the cover of an issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. He burst out onto the scene in 2012, the same year in which the Nationals made it to the playoffs for the first time since the team moved from Montreal, and the first time the franchise had made the playoffs since 1981. He has since turned into a bonafide superstar, taking home the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year award and the 2015 NL MVP award. He now faces his first free agency experience, and will likely be greeted with hundreds of millions of dollars from the biggest market teams, like the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, and Giants, along with Washington. So, Bryce, if you are reading this, let us tell you why staying right here, in Washington, D.C., is the best choice for your career.

 

*********

 

Dear Bryce Harper,

 

As Dorothy says in the Wizard Of Oz, there is no place like home. And even though you were born, spent your childhood years, and played high school and collegiate baseball on the other side of the country in Las Vegas, Nevada, you grew up in Washington D.C. Since you made your MLB debut in Los Angeles in April of 2012, Washington has been your home. You helped lift us out of a very rough time in Washington baseball history, when the Nats were consistently under .500 and had not made it to the playoffs in 30 years, the longest postseason drought in MLB history. The city of Washington, D.C. finally had a winning baseball team for the first time since the Great Depression.

 

Also, no fan base is as loving, kind, and supportive as the one in Washington. If I were a baseball player, there is no way I’d leave this city for a city like Philadelphia, where fans greet opposing players and fans with batteries and beers, or New York, where, I mean, does New York really need an explanation? We Nats fans cherish the great moments you gave to our city. I remember watching the Nationals play the San Diego Padres on a wet May 14th day on my television, with my eyes lighting up the second that your bat made contact with Tim Stauffer’s pitch and watching it sail over the “402” sign in center field for your first big league home run. Who could forget the absolute dinger that you hit off of Carl Edwards in Game 2 against the Cubs to tie the game? And what about the 2018 Home Run Derby, when you won the whole thing (fair and square, pipe down Chicago) while wearing a DC flag headband, and you praised the fans at your home ballpark for giving you the extra motivation you needed to win the Home Run Derby. People wear your name on the back of their shirt all around the DMV. People have named pets after you. Your name is as synonymous to Washington D.C. sports as peanut butter is to jelly.

 

But there has to be a time where we stop looking at the sentimental value of you coming back to play for the Nationals and look at the benefit that you bring to the baseball field. If you stay, the “Top Flight” outfield would be the best in all of baseball. Bryce, you had another great season for the Nationals this year, starting in the 2018 MLB All-Star Game and having an excellent second half. Your two fellow potential Opening Day outfielders in Washington, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, had breakout 2018 seasons. Soto is, in the opinion of many, the surefire NL Rookie of the Year, and Robles could vie for the award in the 2019 season. The three of you would compose the most energetic, lively, and sheerly talented outfields baseball has ever seen. And the truth is that this team is still very much in contention for a World Series. Your chances of winning in San Francisco or Philadelphia are significantly lower than they are in Washington. Plus, you have openly said that you want to play under Davey Martinez for the next 10 to 12 years. Mike Rizzo has said that Martinez isn’t going anywhere, so your opportunity to play under him is right here in the Nation’s Capital.

 

If you join the Yankees, you create an incredible outfield with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. But the Yankees have some real shotty starting pitching and have not been able to garner postseason success with the current core. The Cubs would reunite you with childhood buddy Kris Bryant, but the Cubs have a statistically worse rotation than the Nationals. You’d be a few hundred miles from Las Vegas on the Dodgers, but that’s a team with budgetary constraints and has intense media pressure, and, although this is blatantly hypocritical, hasn’t had so much postseason success with the core they sport today. If you were to become a Philadelphia Phillie, you’d be joining a real young team with a lack of showcase talent, and you’d also be entering the endless abyss of criticism that is Philadelphia sports fans. And the Giants don’t seem so intriguing, as a team on the decline. A team which checks all of your boxes to further your career success and to realize your ultimate goal of winning the World Series is the Washington Nationals. And although we will support you wherever you decide to take your career, we, collectively, as fans of the Washington Nationals, all encourage you to re sign with the Nationals.

 

Signed,

 

Washington, D.C. Sports Fans