Three Remaining Free Agent Hitters to Improve the Nationals Lineup
Spring Training is on the horizon and it looks as though Mike Rizzo is more or less winding the Nationals' offseason down. The remaining free agent pool is quite shallow, but there are a few recognizable names that would make this young Nationals team a stronger and deeper going into the 2023 season. If the front office decided to add one last bat to the lineup before pitchers and catchers report to Palm Beach, who would be the best available options?
1. DH Yermín Mercedes
Perhaps best known for his brief stint as MLB's 2021 hit leader (and more brief retirement from professional baseball), Yermín Mercedes is a hitter who has so far been unable to sustain his occasional sparks of quality. The Nationals lack a true DH for the first time since the National League adopted the position, and Mercedes could fill that role appropriately if not excellently. In 2022, he slashed a serviceable .233/.325.342 across 31 games for the San Francisco Giants, but he played fairly well at the AAA level and Baseball Reference projects that he will make a noticeable improvement this year, in what will be his age 30 season. The Nationals are in a position to take a risk on unproven players looking to improve, and Mercedes fits the bill. Plus, he originally signed with the Nationals as an international prospect in 2011 before being released a few years later, so signing Mercedes would be a reunion.
2. OF Jurickson Profar
Arguably the best hitter still on the market, outfielder Jurickson Profar could provide excellent value at the trade deadline if signed to a one-year deal. Profar slashed .243/.331/.391 in 2022 and managed 3.1 WAR, largely the result of his strong defensive performance. With good (if not great) numbers like that, it's a bit surprising that no team has signed him at this point. A few teams with outfield need have showed interest, but with less than two months until opening day, Profar remains club-less. While it isn't likely that he'll end up a National, the team would be wise to sign him now that Victor Robles' star is waning. Mike Rizzo has made some admirable moves with the limited resources at his disposal, but doesn't seem like the Lerners have given him much more to work with after signing the likes of Jeimer Candelario and Dominic Smith.
3. DH Luke Voit
I know what you're thinking: Didn't the Nats just non-tender this guy? The answer to that question is, of course, yes. The Nationals received Luke Voit from the Padres as part of the return package for Juan Soto, and then decided to release him to free agency rather than pay him an arbitration-year salary. That said, there is no rule that says a team can't sign a player that it had non-tendered earlier in the offseason. In most cases, when a team non-tenders a player (thereby relinquishing their rights to club control of that player), he'll go on to sign with another team in the open market (this is how the Nationals aquired Kyle Schwarber). Once a non-tendered player becomes a free agent, any team can agree to a contract with him at for any amount without having to bother with arbitration. Who says that, in this case, that team can't be the Nationals? 2020 home run leader Luke Voit was far from excellent as a National, but like Yermín Mercedes, he's a hitter who has shown short-lived signs of greatness in the past that may be a sign of promising play in the future. If the Nationals could sign him for less than what they would have had to in arbitration, his occasional power would make the team a more dynamic team with a higher ceiling for 2023.