Now that the Washington Nationals have supposedly settled on Dusty Baker as their field manager, it is time for Mike Rizzo and the front office to begin pinpointing specific players in other organizations who could bolster the 2016 roster.
All-Stars such as Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Gonzalez and Craig Kimbrel have been casually liked with Washington but would be major additions with significant prospect “collateral damage”. Today I wish to highlight five more reasonable targets for the Nationals front office this offseason.
Jonathan Lucroy Catcher
With a new general manager in office for Milwaukee, it feels like a logical time for the team to completely commit to a full rebuild by parting with any players of value under short-term contracts. This would include likely their best player Lucroy, although he is coming off a subpar season hitting .264/.326/.391 with 7 home runs in 103 games.
A solid contributor offensively, Lucroy has built his reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, especially in the pitching framing category. Only 29-years-old Lucroy is a quality above-average two-way catcher signed for $4 million this season and a team option for $5.2 million in 2017, making him one of the best bargains in baseball. He will be difficult to pry away from Milwaukee, but Lucroy would be a demonstrable upgrade for the Nationals (or most any other team) behind the dish next year.
Joaquin Benoit RHP
Benoit has been one of the best late-inning relievers in baseball for nearly a decade, posting a career 3.84 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 8.9 K/9 and 3.63 BB/9 ratio over 970 innings pitched. Last season he provided the Padres with a 2.34 ERA, 8.68 K/9 and 3.17 BB/9 in 65.1 innings.
This 38-year-old reliever will make $8 million in 2016, after the Padres picked up his contract option this week, before becoming a free agent next winter. San Diego already has a healthy salary commitment to closer Craig Kimbrel, along with a tight mid-market budget, and could seek to redistribute Benoit’s salary to other weaknesses on their roster. Could a Benoit for Yunel Escobar swap interest both teams?
Jay Bruce Right Field
The former consensus #1 prospect in baseball, Bruce has been a rather consistent performer since arriving in the majors in 2008, slugging 18+ homers each season. Unfortunately some minor injuries the past two years have hindered the 28-year-old’s all-around game, causing his defensive numbers and batting average to plummet. Last season Bruce hit only .226/.294/.434 against career averages of .248/.319/.462.
Scheduled to earn $12.5 million next season with a $13 million option for 2017, Cincinnati could seek to clear his salary from their payroll as they rebuild in hopes of challenging Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis in future seasons. Bruce is still in his prime and a shrewd team should acquire him this winter, gambling that a change of scenery, impending free agency, and improved health allows him to return to the 30 home run hitter he was just two years ago.
Josh Reddick Right Field
It simply would not be a Nationals trade column without linking them somehow to Oakland, right? But Reddick could be available this offseason, as the 28-year-old enters his last year of salary arbitration before entering free agency next winter.
Reddick is a quality left-handed hitting outfielder coming off a strong campaign in 2015, batting .272/.333/.449 with 20 home runs, 77 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases in 149 games played. In addition, Reddick has the reputation as a solid defender in right field. If Oakland feels like 2016 is a rebuilding year or Reddick will not sign long-term, they could look to deal him to fill other needs.
Francisco Rodriguez RHP
Rodriguez, often referred to as K-Rod, will be one of the most heavily discussed trade targets this winter, as the Brewers have a deep bullpen, a tight payroll, and are unlikely to compete for the playoffs next season. As a reasonably paid closer (1-year $5.5 million with a 2017 option at $8 million) Rodriguez makes a logical target for Milwaukee to part with in order to receive prospects for the future.
Contract status aside, the 33-year-old reliever quietly had yet another strong season for the Brewers in 2015, posting a 2.21 ERA, 2.91 FIP and 62 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched, not to mention going 38 for 40 in save opportunities. Certainly he does not have the power stuff of the “ideal” closer, but the numbers speak for themselves, K-Rod is an above-average late-inning reliever.