The Nationals have notoriously been bargain bin shopping the past couple of offseasons, but that is not who they have always been. Fans will remember the Nationals free agency frenzy days of signing players like Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy and yes, Patrick Corbin. That also includes extending Stephen Strasburg (twice) and offering lucrative extensions to Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, although slightly below market value. All of this is to say that the Nationals have made splashes before, and as of now it is still the same Ownership and GM in place. The team will need to show signs off life before the day comes again when the Nationals break the bank in free agency, but if all goes according to plan, that could be within the next couple of offseasons. This begs the question: who will be the Nationals next big free agent signing?
Well first you have to define what big free agent signing really entails because it is all relative by franchise. For the Mets or Dodgers, you’re talking about a record setting contract. For the Athletics or Royals, you’re talking about any multi-year deal. So for the Nats, who find themselves in the upper half, but closer to 15 than to 1, it is safe to define splash signing as 4+ years with an AAV (average annual value) above $15 Million, especially given the current state of the franchise. It is also worth noting that if you take out the contracts of Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals are basically paying more in deferred money than they are to the rest of their roster. Needless to say, they can afford a splash signing.
2023-24 Free Agency
Could you imagine? The Nats somehow outbid the likes of the Dodgers and Mets to secure the services of probably the most talented player this generation has ever seen?
Unfortunately, that’s all it will ever be: an imagination. The same goes for Manny Machado, who is likely to opt out of his contract next season as well.
After those two, the position player market dries up a bit. Someone like Joc Pederson could be a fit, but I also think with the depth the Nationals have at the outfield positions in the minor leagues, that they won’t spend up on an outfielder in free agency, even with the DH in the National league. Rhys Hoskins could also be a fit as the Nationals don’t really have an answer long-term at first base, but would the Phillies let him go? Or would the Nationals even prioritize spending at first base when there are generally plug-and-play options at the position? Probably not. I like Matt Chapman as well, but also don’t see it happening.
There is, however, a deep starting pitching market next offseason. Aaron Nola, Julio Urias, Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito, Blake Snell and others are all free agents. The Nationals have always preferred spending at Starting Pitcher in Free Agency, and after Cade Cavalli, there isn’t much depth in the minor leagues at the position, making a splash for a big arm more likely.
The one issue of course is Strasburg and Corbin. The Nationals are already dedicating $70M annually to their rotation and are not even close to getting a good return on their investment. Would they be so willing to add another $20 to $30 Million dollars on one arm? Again, probably not. At least not yet.
Prediction: The Nationals have a similar offseason approach as 2022-23
2024-25 Free Agency
This can also be known as the offseason of: What will the Houston Astros do? They already let Justin Verlander go, after a Cy Young award winning season nonetheless. This is after they’ve lost Carlos Correa, George Springer, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke and more in recent years. Do they let Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve go and press full reset on their club? Unlikely, but crazier things have happened.
I personally can’t stand him, but I can also put my personal bias aside and recognize Alex Bregman is a very good fit for the Nationals. It was supposed to be Rafael Devers, but the Red Sox had to go and be all competent and actually extend their franchise player. Who knew that was allowed??
I think the Astros will end up retaining both Bregman and Altuve, the former to a long-term deal. I also think the Mets end up extending Pete Alonso before he hits free agency, further drying up the market. There is, however, one exciting player I am sure will hit free agency…
Could it happen? Absolutely. Will it happen? I highly doubt it.
While a Juan Soto reunion would make fans believe in the franchise again, I do think we run into the same problem of the Nationals’ strength being in outfielders. Would they give a record setting contract to another outfielder? They could always trade away prospects for arms or other prospects at different positions, but it just doesn’t seem like them to do that.
I would be all for a Juan Soto reunion, logistics be dammed. But if the Nationals weren’t willing to meet the asking price before, I just don’t see it happening in two years without a significant change at the top of the organization. There is a silver lining though…
This offseason is also the offseason that Patrick Corbin’s contract comes off the books, freeing up a significant amount of salary for the Nationals, but also creating an opening in their rotation. Trevor Williams will also be a free agent this offseason as well, if he is not traded beforehand, creating two openings. What if none of Gray, Gore or Cavalli establish themselves as that true number one ace? The Nationals could look back to the Free Agent market to fill the void, and they will like what they see.
This free agent class is LOADED at Starting Pitcher. Here’s a few of the names:
- Shane Bieber
- Walker Buehler
- Corbin Burnes
- Brandon Woodruff
- Pablo Lopez
- Chris Sale
- Robbie Ray
- Zack Wheeler
- and more
I do think the Nationals will add someone from this list. They value starting pitching but also realize Starting Pitching does not come cheap. They took a chance on Max Scherzer and it ended up being the best free agent signing in MLB history. They took a chance on Patrick Corbin and it didn’t work out nearly as well. I think the Nationals will be up for taking another chance on a proven starting pitcher, and this will be right around the time where prospects like Robert Hassell III and James Wood will be making their Major League debuts. Adding a big splash in free agency will only build that hype.
The additional good news is that outside of the Dogers & Walker Buehler, and perhaps the Phillies and Zack Wheeler, most of these pitchers’ current teams are not well-known threats in free agency. The Guardians, Brewers and Marlins all spend less than the Nationals normally do. While the top spending teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees are all concerned about the Burnes, Buehlers and Biebers of the world, the Nationals could come in and grab a 1B tier pitcher without necessarily paying top dollar. 2025 will be the year the Nationals Free Agency frenzy starts again.