Now that enough time has passed since Game 5 of the NLDS, it is time to look towards the offseason for the Nats. In order to keep form or improve from this season’s 98-win team, the Nationals will have to fill their holes and make every move possible to field the best team. For years, Nationals fans have looked forward to the future, a future filled with hope from the team’s young stars. But today, the future is now for the Nationals, and the team must make moves to win now.
Pending Free Agents:
The Nationals have a few impending free agents, most notable among them first baseman Adam LaRoche, pitcher Edwin Jackson, and lefty reliever Sean Burnett, each of whom was a notable contributor to this team.
Burnett was a solid back-end bullpen arm this season, compiling a 2.38 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 56.2 innings pitched. He has a $3.5 million mutual option for the 2013 season, but is likely to decline his side in search of a multi-year payday. The Nationals have the money to re-sign him, but if he prices himself out of what the Nationals are willing to pay, the team may turn to the free agent market or the minor leagues to find his replacement.
Jackson was signed for one year and $10 million this offseason, and pitched as was expected, going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA. Jackson has stated that he would like to return for next season, but given his stated desire for a multiyear deal and his unimpressive playoff performance, it remains to be seen whether the team would want him back. If Jackson does not return, John Lannan could return to the rotation and take his place, or the team could find a free-agent replacement, such as another Nat whose contract is up after this season, Chien-Ming Wang.
LaRoche is the biggest name among those three, as his 33 home runs and 100 RBI led the team this year. He has a mutual option for $10 million this year, but is likely to decline it and search for a bigger payday on the open market. However, reports indicate that LaRoche and the team have begun negotiations on a new contract, so it is more likely than not that LaRoche will be back in D.C. next year. If LaRoche leaves, the team could start Tyler Moore at first, but would likely move Michael Morse to first and attempt to find a center fielder in a fairly deep free agent class for them.
Potential Free Agent and Trade Targets:
If any of the aforementioned players leave, or if the team simply wants an upgrade at any position, there are a few players who could be available this offseason for the right price.
Shaun Marcum pitched fairly well for the Brewers this season, with a 3.70 ERA in 124 innings as he battled injuries. This season was Marcum’s worst since 2007, and as such he could likely be had for relatively cheap, perhaps cheaper than Jackson. He will be 31 in 2013, two years older than Jackson, but his career ERA is more than half a run lower while they average a similar number of innings pitched per year. However, something to note is that he has a 14.90 ERA in three career playoff starts. Other starting pitching targets could be Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez, Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy, or, if the team wanted to really open the checkbook, St. Louis’s Kyle Lohse or LA’s Zack Greinke. The Nationals have liked Greinke in the past, and almost acquired him in a trade with Kansas City in 2010 for Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmermann, and Danny Espinosa, a deal that fell through because Greinke vetoed it, saying that the Nationals were not consistent winners. Potential trade candidates could include Chicago’s Matt Garza and Miami’s Josh Johnson.
If Adam LaRoche leaves, the free agent options at first base are limited, to say the least. The only viable starter is Carlos Lee, so the Nationals’ plan would likely be to move Morse to first base and leave a gap in the outfield for either a true, leadoff-hitting center fielder, or a power-hitting corner outfielder, leaving Bryce Harper to man the other spot. If the Nationals decide to add a center fielder, Atlanta CF Michael Bourn would be the clear number one choice. Bourn fits the mold exactly, as he hit .272 and stole 42 bases this year while playing Gold Glove defense. He will be expensive, and turns 30 in December, but he still plays at a high level and the Nats have money to blow. Additionally, signing Bourn away from Atlanta deals a heavy blow to one of the Nats’ biggest divisional rivals. The other premier free agent CFs are Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton, long rumored to be a Nationals target, and former Phillie Shane Victorino. Trade targets could include Minnesota’s Denard Span or Ben Revere.
If the Nationals decide to add a corner outfielder, the options look to be quite expensive. Former AL MVP and Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton will likely be the highest-paid free agent this offseason, potentially at upwards of $25 million a year for 5+ years, numbers the Nationals may not be willing to accept. Yankee Nick Swisher is a good hitter with passable defense in left, but will turn 32 next month, has not exceeded 3.5 WAR since 2007, and is reportedly looking for “Jayson Werth money”, despite having 1.8 fewer WAR this season than Werth did in his contract year. The infamous Melky Cabrera will likely be cheap, given his bust for performance-enhancing drugs, but that revelation means that Cabrera will likely not play as well again as he did for the beginning of this year. These in-demand players, along with a thin trade market for corner OFs, mean that adding any OF who doesn’t play center this offseason is unlikely.
The reliever market is never thin, but big-money relievers, usually former closers, tend not to pan out. Instead of spending a lot on a free agent former closer like Fernando Rodney, the Nationals would be better served to find an effective middle reliever, and hopefully a lefty to match the potential departure of Burnett, such as Tampa’s J.P. Howell.
The Nationals have lots of decisions to make as they move into the offseason. But with so many options to choose from, it will be interesting to see what direction the team takes.