The 2020 World Series has come down between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers. We can still say the Nationals are still the last team to win a non-asterisked World Series given the exotic nature of this season, but in reality, the torch will soon be passed.
The Nats had a rough 2020 season, and if there is any hope of competing in October for 2021, moves will need to be made to bolster the roster. The three-headed monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will all be back in the rotation, but this will be Scherzer’s final season under contract.
There’s no Bryce Harper/Anthony Rendon-type of free agent in risk of walking this offseason, so the team can focus on bringing in outsiders rather than retaining (or rather, making offers) to their own big free agents.
The lineup needs improvement, especially in terms of power, and the backend of the starting rotation could benefit from a new face as well. There is a lot to look at, so let’s look at the team’s outgoing free agents and some players on other teams that the Nats should target.
Notable outgoing free agents:
Aníbal Sánchez ($12 million club option)
Adam Eaton ($10.5 million club option)
Howie Kendrick ($6.5 million mutual option)
Eric Thames ($4 million mutual option)
Michael A. Taylor
From what I’ve seen so far, most of these players will not return. Doolittle made a social media post not too long ago that said everything short of an explicit “good-bye.” Taylor cleared waivers and will test the free agent waters. Zimmerman, Suzuki and Kendrick are all retirement risks, although if Zimmerman and/or Kendrick decide to play in 2021, it will be with the Nats; Suzuki will probably not be back regardless.
Sánchez’s $12 million option will not be picked up, as that is far too much money to hand to a 37-year-old coming off a horrendous 2020 campaign, and there’s a real possibility Eaton’s option is not picked up either. He did not have a good 2020 season, and the Nats may decide to move on from the oft-injured outfielder.
Thames has a relatively low-paying option for next season, but I don’t see any real incentive for the Nats to opt in to another year, especially if they want to get younger.
That leaves Freeman and Cabrera. Freeman appeared in just five innings across seven games. His numbers were good for the small sample size, but he will be 34 in 2021. He made just $575,000 (before prorating to 60 games) in 2020, so it should be very easy for the Nats to re-sign him should they decide to do so.
Cabrera, meanwhile, played a much larger role than Freeman, serving as a decent bat and a versatile infielder for the Nats to utilize nearly every day. Cabrera will be 35 next season, and while he wouldn’t demand an outlandish salary, the organization’s desire to get younger could spell the end of Cabrera’s second stint in Washington.
Assuming all or most of the names on that list will not return, here is a list of all the positional needs the Nats have to fill before Opening Day 2021:
- Starting pitcher (fourth or fifth in rotation)
- 1-2 first basemen
- Starting third baseman
- Starting outfielder
- A handful of bench outfielders/infielders
- A couple relief pitchers
Those are a lot of needs to address, but third base and outfield will likely be the biggest ones.
There are very few starting-caliber third basemen in the free agent market this year. Justin Turner of the Dodgers will be the best available option, but he’ll be 36 next year. A short-term deal might be worth a high price, as Carter Kieboom underwhelmed at third this year.
Other less expensive options include Kansas City’s Maikel Franco, who hit .278 and eight home runs this season after making just $3.34 million (Turner, batting .307 with four home runs, made $20 million by comparison; both salaries before prorating). Milwaukee’s Jed Gyorko has a $4.5 million team option, so he may be worth watching if not picked up, but Turner is the only big name that really moves the needle.
There are more exciting options for a third outfielder to pair with Juan Soto and Victor Robles. Former World Series foe George Springer of the Astros and Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna will be the top options on the market. Signing Ozuna seems unlikely, but Springer is a realistic option who would bring much-needed power to the lineup.
Springer’s teammate, Michael Brantley, is also a free agent and would be less expensive, but he doesn’t possess the same power that Springer has, although he is a great hitter. Brantley averaged exactly .300 this year.
Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. would be a great choice defensively, and LA’s Joc Pederson, while not a consistent hitter, would certainly add power to the lineup for a less expensive salary.
In my opinion, Springer, then Brantley should be the team’s first priorities for the outfield. As odd as it would be to welcome in someone from the Astros, either would improve the lineup immensely. (Plus, only Springer was on the disgraced 2017 Astros; Brantley did not arrive in Houston until 2019).
As for catcher, an intriguing option would be bringing Wilson Ramos back home. While the Nats have shown interest in bringing in Phillies star JT Realmuto, the team’s money would probably be better spent elsewhere. If the Mets go after Realmuto with incoming owner Steve Cohen looking to make a splash, the “Buffalo” will become expendable.
The Nats obviously have a lot of holes to fill, and if there’s any hope of returning to the postseason in 2021, this will have to be a busy winter.
Cover Photo Credit: ESPN