As third base market heats up, do Nationals have one move left in them?

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Matt Weyrich
·3 min read
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As 3B market heats up, do Nationals have one move left in them? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Nationals got next-to-no production out of their third basemen in 2020.

Five different players started at the position, most notably Carter Kieboom (30 games) and Asdrúbal Cabrera (17). Combined, they posted a strikingly low .575 OPS with only two homers during the shortened 60-game season. That OPS stood as the second-worst mark for any team’s third basemen behind only the Milwaukee Brewers (.574). In front of them were the Toronto Blue Jays, 53 points higher at .628.

It was a glaring hole in the Nationals’ lineup, exacerbated by the fact that they let two-time Silver Slugger Anthony Rendon walk in free agency last winter. Third base is a position of strength for most teams, as no position has accrued more fWAR over the past two seasons than third. That puts the Nationals at a disadvantage, trying to make up for their lack of third base production in other ways.

For now, the company line is that the Nationals believe in Kieboom’s ability to live up to the potential they saw when they drafted him in the first round five years ago. However, the team is also reportedly willing to consider him in trade offers, which indicates a willingness to invest in another third baseman in case Kieboom continues to struggle.

Yet, the Nationals will only go so far to address the position. The Chicago Cubs have dangled Kris Bryant in trade discussions for years but Washington GM Mike Rizzo ruled out the possibility of trading for the former NL MVP in December.

“We haven’t had a serious conversation about Kris Bryant in probably two years,” Rizzo said in a Zoom press conference. “He was not a big guy on our radar last year or this year. He’s a great player but at this point and time of where we’re at, and what we have in our farm system, and where we’re going, we think we can allocate our dollars and prospect capital in another way.”

Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has always been a long shot as well, even more so now that the St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly shown serious interest in acquiring him. In free agency, Justin Turner stands alone as the top available player, but the Nationals’ budget has gotten tighter after they spent the winter crossing off a long list of roster needs.

Washington reportedly inked catcher Alex Avila to a one-year, $1.5 million deal Thursday, bringing their 40-man roster to 39 players. According to Cot’s Contracts, that gives the Nationals about $15 million to work with under the $210 million luxury tax threshold. Rizzo prefers to leave some room for in-season additions and performance bonuses, so the Nationals are probably not going to spend more than around $6 million on a third baseman if they do acquire one.

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After César Hernández returned to the Cleveland Indians on a one-year deal and Tommy La Stella moved closer to signing a multi-year deal with the San Francisco Giants this week, the Nationals’ infield options began to thin out. Jonathan Schoop stands out as the most obvious fit, a former 30-homer bat who could take over at second base and push Starlin Castro to third. Kolten Wong is still available if the Nationals can afford him at this point.

Beyond them, the biggest names out there among free agent infielders include Jonathan Villar, Hanser Alberto, Marwin González, Dee Strange-Gordon, Jake Lamb and Todd Frazier. None have been particularly good hitters the last few years but each carries a level of upside the Nationals could buy into.

The Nationals could very well go into spring training with an open spot on their 40-man roster and Kieboom manning third base. But as busy as Rizzo and Co. have been this offseason tinkering with their roster, it still feels incomplete. A third baseman would go a long way toward solidifying their place in the thick of the NL East race.