There isn’t a team in Major League Baseball who finished in last place in their division with more promise than the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals, who were predicted to win their division last season, finished with the same record as the Nats in the basement of the NL Central. The Rockies, Royals, and Athletics don’t have much hope for next year, and who knows what the Red Sox are going to do after firing Chaim Bloom in September.
The Nationals had the lowest win total in baseball in 2022. They cashed the over by 13 games, finishing with 71 wins in a 2023 season that went better than anyone expected. If Mike Rizzo and the Nats play their cards right this offseason, this team can be competitive in 2024. Here are some free agents the Nationals should target this offseason.
Gary Sánchez, C/DH (1 Year / $4,000,000)
If you look at the Nationals’ roster, what’s the one thing that this lineup clearly needs more of? This offense badly needs more power, and a one-year deal with Gary Sánchez to prove himself and earn a long-term deal with another squad actually makes more sense than it does at first glance.
Right now, the Nats are playing the waiting-game for Dylan Crews and James Wood. Why not go out and add a veteran power-bat for a year to boost the offense where it needs it the most? He could take over the backup-catcher duties from Riley Adams, who is a liability against right-handed pitching and will be coming off a nasty wrist injury.
Picture this: Joey Meneses plays first base (almost) daily, and the Nationals move on from Dom Smith. It’s worth mentioning that Meneses statistically performs better at the plate when he plays the field, not DH. The Nats sign Gary Sánchez to a one-year deal, and he becomes our every-day DH, giving Keibert Ruiz a day off behind the dish once a week.
I wouldn’t mind giving Keibert a couple more days off this season behind the dish either. We saw how much more productive he was at the dish in the second half of the season when Davey gave him more time off. Either way, you’re adding a power-bat into the lineup every day either behind the plate or at DH.
I was impressed by the resurrection of “El Gary” in San Diego in the latter half of last season. To put it in perspective just how valuable Sánchez’ offense could be for the Nats, listen to this stat: Gary Sánchez had as many RBIs with the Padres as Dom Smith did with the Nats last season in more than double the amount of games played. This sounds like a great way to add more power to Washington’s lineup on a one-year deal while they continue to wait for their rising stars to make their MLB debuts.
Rhys Hoskins, 1B (1 Year / $14,000,000)
The Phillies have decided to play Bryce Harper at first base going forward, which means Rhys Hoskins is presumably out of Philadelphia. Hoskins missed the entire 2023 season after suffering a torn ACL in Spring Training, but let’s not forget what he did a year ago. He put up a career-high 30 home runs, leading the Phillies to the World Series with his bat and improved defense.
The Dom Smith experiment was a complete and utter failure last season. I know there are some Nats fans out there that will disagree with me, stating that he is a “great clubhouse guy,” but a team that finished second-to-last in home runs last year could really use a first baseman with some pop.
Dom Smith played in 147 games for the Nationals last season, finishing with a career-high 12 home runs and only 46 RBIs. Hoskins would nearly double that production, and he is also known for being a great “locker-room guy” and a leader for the Phillies. Coming off a one-year, $12,000,000 contract in 2023 and missing the entire season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hoskins’ agent was in the market for another one-year “prove-it” deal.
Sonny Gray, SP (3 Years / $70,000,000)
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the Nationals bringing in these back-end starters at the tail-end of their careers with zero gas left in the tank. Washington has some good young arms in Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, two potential future front-end starters, but a stable veteran at the top of the rotation would do wonders for the Nationals next year.
The general public doesn’t give Sonny Gray enough credit. Maybe it’s because he pitched for a smaller-market team, but the right-handed veteran put up the third-lowest ERA in baseball last season. It truly was a rejuvenation year for Gray, who logged his most innings in a season since 2015.
Gray is at the tail-end of his career, so he won’t be looking for a deal longer than two or three years. He is coming off debatably the best season of his long career, and his consistency in the Nationals rotation would make them even more competitive. Worst case scenario, if the Nats’ playoff hopes are looking slim, I’m sure they could flip him to a contender for some prospects before the deadline in either of the next two seasons.