5 Free Agents The Washington Nationals Should Target This Winter

Nationals Park Opening Day 2014

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.

THE NatsGM Show Episode 19 – Comic John Conroy

Episode #19 finds me joined LIVE in THE NatsGM Studios with long-time friend and internationally known stand-up comic John Conroy.  We riff on the Washington Nationals and the 2014 World Series, discuss the Ins and Outs of comedy, and lament the state of DC sports.

* This episode has Adult Language – We earned our Explicit Language Rating this week.  Please be advised. *

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5 Players the Washington Nationals Should Target in Trades This Winter

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Now that the World Series is complete (Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants), the time has come to begin reshaping the Washington Nationals roster in hopes of capturing next year’s championship. General Manager Mike Rizzo has shown a propensity to improve the roster via trades in recent years, Doug Fister, Denard Span, and Gio Gonzalez specifically come to mind, rather than free agency. With this in mind, these are five specific players the Nationals front office should target this winter to help return Washington to the playoffs in 2015.

Jason Kipnis 2B Cleveland Indians

A longshot on the surface, Kipnis would be a near ideal fit for the Nationals second base position long-term, as the 27-year-old second baseman bats left-handed, can hit atop the lineup, and is signed through 2020. So why would Kipnis be expendable? From Cleveland’s perspective, Kipnis disappointed this season, batting .240/.310/.330 after his breakout 2013 season, which saw him post a .818 OPS and achieve his 1st all-star appearance. Cleveland could fear 2013 was an anomaly and could seek to reallocate his $49.5 million extension on another team.

In addition, Cleveland has two excellent young middle infielders in current shortstop Jose Ramirez and rising phenom Francisco Lindor. The Indians could use Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and Zach Walters to cover for Kipnis at second in 2015 until Lindor is promoted and Ramirez permanently shifts to the keystone. Considering the Indians’ limited payroll and long-term obligations to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, perhaps the right offer could tempt Cleveland to part with Kipnis.

Hypothetical Offer: A.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez, and Austin Voth for Jason Kipnis

Cliff Pennington 2B/SS Arizona Diamondbacks

Perhaps not the sexiest hypothetical acquisition, but if the Nationals fail to land a permanent solution at second base, Pennington could provide a reasonably good platoon partner for Danny Espinosa and as a backup behind Ian Desmond. Arizona has tremendous current depth in the middle infield, and with Pennington scheduled to earn $3.3 million in his final year of arbitration, the Diamondbacks are likely to part with Pennington this offseason for a pitcher or a low-level prospect.

Hypothetical Offer: Ross Detwiler for Cliff Pennington

Juan Francisco 1B/3B Toronto Blue Jays

With Adam LaRoche and Nate Schierholtz expected to depart via free agency and questions surrounding Nate McLouth’s health, the Nationals should look to acquire an inexpensive left-handed bat with some power for their bench this winter.

Francisco is a flawed player but hits right-handed pitching well (career .786 OPS) and can passibly play both infield corner positions. The 27-year-old is projected to earn about $2 million this year in his first year of arbitration, and with the presence of Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak, and Danny Valencia currently on Toronto’s roster, Francisco should be readily available in trade discussions.

Hypothetical Offer: Tony Renda for Juan Francisco

Kevin Quackenbush RHP San Diego Padres

I expect the Nationals to shake up the back of their bullpen this offseason, as stalwarts Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen are scheduled to earn $15+ million in 2015. Considering Storen’s shaky results in the playoffs and Clippard’s impeding free agency in 2016, the Nationals should look to acquire one or more young, cost-controlled relief pitchers this winter – specifically a reliever with strong strikeout numbers and who limits walks and home runs. A long-time favorite of mine since watching him in college at South Florida, Quackenbush would be a perfect addition to the Nationals’ relief corps.

San Diego is expected to entertain offers this winter for their relievers, but they would be more eager to part with veteran Joaquin Benoit and his $8 million salary in 2015 rather than the pre-arbitration Quackenbush. However the Padres have an outstanding track record of developing quality relief pitchers, and could look to trade a reliever for offensive talent.

Hypothetical Offer: Steven Souza and Rafael Bautista for Kevin Quackenbush

Antonio Bastardo LHP Philadelphia Phillies

A long-time thorn in Washington’s side, Bastardo has established himself as one of the best left-handed relievers in the National League. Bastardo’s walk rate is slightly higher than optimal, but he is scheduled to make about $2.75 million in 2015 and would more than suitably replace Clippard as the Nationals set-up man next season. Certainly the Phillies would be hesitant to trade within the division, but considering Bastardo is under contract for only 1 more season and Philadelphia desperately needs an infusion of prospects, the Phillies would be wise to take the best package of talent for Bastardo.

Hypothetical Offer: Jake Johansen and Austin Voth for Antonio Bastardo

THE NatsGM Show Episode 18 – Guest Jordan Gorosh

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Episode #18 of THE NatsGM Show allows me the distinct pleasure of interviewing Baseball Prospectus’s Jordan Gorosh!

One of the top young prospect evaluators around, Jordan and I this week discussed Baltimore Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey, the majority of the top prospects in the Washington Nationals system, and he shares a story about Mike Ferrin and Jason Parks (RIP).  Also Tucker Blair gets his contractually obligatory mention as well.  Download and Enjoy this terrific interview, thanks for listening!