Ever since they splurged on signing Jayson Werth, the Washington Nationals have shown a reticence toward spending heavily in the free agent market, often preferring to fill roster flaws via trade. In fact, the only free agents Washington signed last offseason were Nate McLouth and Kevin Frandsen, both solid players but far from blockbuster acquisitions.
Nevertheless, the Nationals will still participate in free agency this offseason as they attempt to improve their roster for 2015. These are five specific, realistic names I expect Washington to target in free agency.
Jed Lowrie 2B/SS
Asdrubal Cabrera and Lowrie are in direct competition this offseason as the top middle infielder available, excluding any possible “foreign” imports. Both players have similar offensive profiles with reasonable power and on-base skills but subpar defensive shortstops. Considering he is two years older and comes with more injury risk than Cabrera, Lowrie might command a shorter term contract, which would appeal to Washington. Lowrie is not a long-term solution at the keystone, but a solid 2-3 win player who would profile well at the bottom of the Nationals’ lineup.
Stephen Drew 2B/SS
Drew, and particularly his agent Scott Boras, would argue he belongs in the same category as Cabrera and Lowrie as best free agent middle infielder, but he had a nightmarish 2014 campaign after an offseason that left him without a dance partner. Now the 31-year-old returns to free agency this winter likely seeking a 1-year deal to rebuild his value and find his rich, multi-year contract in twelve months.
Boras and the Nationals have a well-known cozy relationship, and considering the number of players Washington has approaching free agency in the next few years, perhaps a healthy 1-year “make-good” contract might make sense for all parties involved.
Adam Dunn 1B/DH/PH
Many will immediately dismiss this idea as pure nostalgia, but the Nationals need a left-handed bench bat capable of hitting for power. Now 35, Dunn still slugged 22 home runs in 429 at-bats and posted a .783 OPS against right-handed pitchers in 2014. He announced his intention last month to retire following a 15-year career in which he’s earned more than $100 million, but perhaps the lure of one more run at a World Series ring could captivate him to sign cheaply with Washington.
Casey Janssen Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
If the Nationals due indeed allow Rafael Soriano to depart as a free agent and trade Tyler Clippard in hopes of redistributing some payroll, Washington could look to add a veteran presence with closing experience to the back-end of the bullpen. The 33-year-old Janssen has been one of the most consistent relief pitchers the past few seasons, averaging a 2.46 ERA from 2011-2013 before posting a subpar 3.94 ERA this season.
The closer market is rather robust this winter, so Janssen could look to sign a 1-year contract to rebuild his value and reenter free agency in a stronger bargaining position next offseason. Other teams could offer more money and (or) guarantee him the closer role, but the Nationals could offer him the opportunity to move to the National League and give him plenty of high-leverage innings for a World Series contender.
Brandon Morrow Right-Handed Pitcher
This selection is based more on gut instinct than raw data, as I will never forget Morrow dominating on Cape Cod as a 2-pitch reliever years ago. Morrow has struggled with injuries the past few seasons but a shift to the bullpen and becoming primarily a fastball/slider pitcher could allow him to reinvent himself as a valuable weapon in the late innings. Morrow will likely seek a richer contract and a larger role than Washington can offer, but I think he could offer a rare low-risk high-reward pitcher in this rather barren free agent crop.