Ranking possible free agent targets for the Nationals originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Nationals need help. A lot of help.
Free agency officially began Wednesday morning. So, now it is time to shop.
What follows is a ranking of free agent targets at five spots. Not being counted here is money, which is obviously not a choice the Nationals have. This is more a compilation of the best free agents at the spots the Nationals need to look at.
The Nationals have to rebuild their first base platoon with the future of Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick unclear. Or they need to find an everyday solution. The first base market is shallow and uninspiring unless a trio of players do not have their options picked up.
1. Jake Lamb. This is a bit of a cheat since Lamb is more of a third baseman. However, he can play first base. Moving third baseman to the other corner is a common transition and Lamb has played 44 career games there, including 12 in 2020. Lamb delivered an .842 OPS, on average, in 2016 and 2017. He was hurt in 2018 and 2019. His lousy start to 2020 led to his release, then a rebound in Oakland.
2. Joc Pederson. Another cheat, but Pederson has played 20 games at first base. He would be the left-handed side of a platoon. Essentially, Eric Thames with a proven postseason record.
3. C.J. Cron. A solid right-handed bat with good power. Platooning Cron would make him all the more effective.
Options of note: Anthony Rizzo. He’s the best all-around option at this position on the market if the Cubs decline his $14.5 million option. Rizzo had a lousy 2020, but so did many players who usually are solid or better. He’s 31 years old, hits from the left side, is an excellent fielder and around a 4 fWAR player. He will be expensive. He would also be an enormous help for a lagging Nationals offense.
Carlos Santana. Santana put together a 4.4 fWAR season in 2019. For a comparison point, Juan Soto had a 4.8 fWAR season in 2019. Santana has been durable (154 games on average) and hitting home runs (25) for nine years. He also walks a lot (101 on average). Cleveland holds a $17.5 million option on his services.
The Carter Kieboom experiment failed in 2020. Expect the Nationals to try to find a more defined solution, even if that means putting Starlin Castro at third.
1. Justin Turner. He’s older (36) though his 30s have been filled with consistency. Turner’s postseason value was on display throughout the World Series. He also could move to first base or DH in year two (or later) of a contract if the Nationals thought a young player was ready to take over at third base. Turner’s demeanor and skill set would fit right in.
2. DJ LeMahieu. This would be a position shift from second base, his primary position, though LeMahieu has played third base in 104 career games. The two best seasons of his career happened the last two years in New York. LeMahieu would become the Nationals’ leadoff hitter and instantly start stretching their lineup.
3. Marcus Semien. Semien, 30, struggled in 2020 after finishing third in American League MVP voting in 2019. Though, that season was a personal outlier. Like LeMahieu, this would be a position shift for Semien who has started 44 career games at third base -- most coming earlier in his career. But moving a quality shortstop to third can be a reasonable transition.
Kurt Suzuki is a free agent. Yan Gomes is back and young catcher Tres Barrera is close to big-league ready behind the plate.
1. J.T. Realmuto. This is not close. Realmuto is the best catcher on the market. He would be a huge defensive upgrade and a notable offensive improvement. Realmuto is entering his age-30 season. Most teams will view him in the Buster Posey mold: Catcher now, first baseman later. However, Posey was a significantly better offensive player.
2. James McCann. McCann’s offense has steadily improved (.789 OPS in 2019). The White Sox pitching staff, in particular Lucas Giolito, lauds McCann for his defensive work and pitch selection. The Nationals need someone to pair with Yan Gomes. McCann would be a great fit, then could take over as the full-time catcher in 2022.
3. Yadier Molina. Yes, he’s 38. And he has slowed. Though, this would be a platoon situation for one of the best catchers of this generation. His defense remains supreme (45 percent caught stealing in 2020).
Adam Eaton’s option likely to be declined means the Nationals need a third full-time outfielder to join Soto and Victor Robles. Andrew Stevenson is in line for the fourth spot.
1. George Springer. Similar to Realmuto, this is a clear choice. Springer could play any outfield position, he can leadoff, hits for power and has a beefy postseason resume.
2. Marcell Ozuna. A huge season in Atlanta has positioned Ozuna for a big payday -- if a team puts faith into his 2020 results as opposed to previous years.
3. Michael Brantley. A quality, middle-of-the-order left-hand bat, even at 34 years old. Brantley is a solid defender with significant postseason experience. He’d be a fit in D.C.
The Nationals need bullpen help. Yes, again.
1. Liam Hendriks. Back-to-back monster seasons in Oakland elevated Hendriks from a good reliever to arguably the best in the sport. He was also used a lot (85 innings in 2019). Hendriks is 31 years old, so a three-year deal is probably in his future.
2. Alex Colomé. A five-year run as a reliable closer has put Colomé in position to be one of the most sought-after relievers this offseason. His 0.81 ERA for the White Sox in 2021 allowed him to match his fWAR from the 2019 season. The Nationals could use a “closer” or another closer-level relief pitcher to join Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Will Harris.
3. Trevon Rosenthal. Oh, hello old friend. Rosenthal re-established himself in 2020 the way the Nationals hoped he would in 2019. He pitched well as the Royals’ closer before dominating for San Diego. Now, he will be in demand as part of a so-so reliever crop.
An option note: Brad Hand. He is one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball the last four years. The Nationals desperately need left-handed bullpen help. Hand is 30 years old and in position for a multi-year contract if Cleveland does not exercise its $10 million option on Hand.