The Offseason and Free Agency is the best time of the year for 29 teams (winning the World Series being the exception) because it means your team has as good of a shot as any to improve. Even if your team and owner aren’t known for making big splashes or running with high payrolls, you at least get the momentary glimmer of hope, thinking to yourself, “Well, they could sign this free agent.” And that is where the Washington Nationals, and their fans, find themselves this offseason. It was a season to forget, and we all hope it is only up from here. The team has plenty of holes to fill and plenty of payroll available.
There are obviously questions surrounding the ownership with the pending sale of the franchise. How active will Mike Rizzo and company be during Free Agency? If the years prior are any indication, the Nationals will not be big spenders but instead load up on one year deals. They have actually not signed a Free Agent to a multi-year contract since Winter of 2019. I would say it is time to re-join the fold in Free Agency, but again, it is difficult to predict without long-term ownership in place.
The good news, however, is that the MLB Free Agency period is usually a slow burn as opposed to an all out sprint like the NFL or NBA Free Agency period. This, in theory, allows more time for the Nationals ownership situation to be resolved and talent to be acquired. While the likes of Aaron Judge and Jacob DeGrom are likely off the table, there are some notable Free Agents the team could go after. Here are five free agents at various positions the Nationals could target this winter:
Josh Harrison – IF
2022 Stats: .256/.317/.370, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs, 1.4 WAR
A familiar face around these parts, Josh Harrison was an instant fan-favorite in DC. While his best days are likely behind him, he can provide valuable infield depth and tons of energy to a young team. The middle of your infield is already solidified with the tandem of CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia, but having Josh Harrison to back up those positions while having a rapport with the coaching staff already could prove valuable to the club.
The Chicago White Sox declined his 2023 option, but still have to pay his 1.5 MM buyout. This could persuade Harrison to re-join the Nationals on a team friendly deal where he had success in recent years. It is not a splashy signing, and he isn’t known for his offense, but Harrison provides depth to an inexperienced infield.
Contract Projection: 1 year, 3 Million
Alternative: Donovan Solano
Brandon Drury – 3B/IF
2022 Stats: .263/.320/.492, 28 HRs, 87 RBIs, 2.6 WAR
It is safe to say that 2022 was a career year for Brandon Drury. For context, Drury put up a 2.6 WAR with the Reds and Padres last season, but still only has a 2.0 WAR for his career. Could this just be an outlier year with imminent regression looming? Absolutely. But the Nationals can afford to take the chance if it turns out Drury has figured it out at the plate.
Drury won’t command a high AAV or long multi-year deal, but he will be looking to prove to the league that he is more than just a one hit wonder. The Nats can sign him to a two year deal and if he outperforms his contract, trade him to a contender. Drury has plenty of value defensively too, as he can play multiple infield spots. But for the Nats, he could be your everyday bridge third baseman until one of your younger prospects is ready to take over. This team needs power, and if Drury can repeat his 28 Home Run season, he will be well worth the contract.
Contract Projection: 2 Years, 18 Million
Alternative: Jace Peterson (3B)
Joc Pederson – OF
2022 Stats: .274/.353/.521, 23 HRs, 70 RBIs, 1.3 WAR
Speaking of power, the Nationals could use a lefty power bat AND a corner outfielder. Insert Joc Pederson.
Once upon a time, I criticized the Nationals for choosing Kyle Schwarber over Joe Pederson, who was half the cost. I was obviously wrong about that, but it doesn’t mean Joc hasn’t been valuable in his own right. For his 9 year career, Pederson averages 27 homers over a 162 game span. He can also play any outfield position, although he is now probably more suited for a corner outfield role. The Nationals could run an outfield of Lane Thomas, Victor Robles and Joc Pederson, while moving Joey Meneses to First Base (where he is more suited) and Luke Voit to DH (also where he is more suited).
His contract is a bit difficult to predict, but he has signed one year deals in each of the past two offseasons. I’m sure he will be looking for a longer contract this winter, but the Nats can tack on a second year of market value to offer some stability in exchange for his services.
Contract Projection: 2 years, 24 Million
Alternative: Michael Conforto (OF)
Corey Kluber – SP
2022 Stats: 31 GS, 164 IP, 10-10, 4.34 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 139 SO
Corey Kluber is not the Cy Young Caliber pitcher he once was, but he can be incredibly valuable to a pitching staff like the Nationals that was worst in the MLB last season. Above all else, Kluber has shown the ability to eat innings, which is incredibly valuable to a bullpen that was also one of the worst in baseball last season.
The Nationals won’t be pursuing a top tier arm this winter, at least in Free Agency. But Kluber can come in and immediately lead and settle a staff of young arms like Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Cade Cavalli. I’ve seen fans link Zack Greinke to the Nationals, but considering he’s already blocked a trade to DC in the past, I think Kluber is more realistic and better since he’s younger than Greinke.
Contract Projection: 1 year, 10 million
Alternative: Michael Wacha (SP)
Zack Britton – LHP
2022 Stats: 3 G, 0.2 IP, 13.50 ERA, 10.50 WHIP, 1 SO
Britton had Tommy John Surgery early last year, but he did attempt to come back for the Yankees playoff run. He ultimately fell short of his accelerated comeback, but it is good news for his outlook in 2023 that a comeback was even possible so soon. Now Britton’s 2021 campaign was not great, either, as he put up a 5.89 ERA across 18.1 innings, but that is obviously not the Zack Britton you are betting on.
The Nationals desperately need a LHP in the bullpen, and while Sean Doolittle was a fun flash in the pan last season, we need more. Britton may turn out to be a bust if you sign him, but the need is there and the history is there as he put up a 1.90 ERA across 80 innings in 2019/20. If Britton comes anywhere close to regaining form, you are getting an absolute steal and inevitably one of the most coveted arms at the trade deadline.