No Harper, No Problem for Nationals
With the GM meetings coming to an end we are in full “Hot Stove” season mode. What got the pilot light going? Well, it was probably the report that superstar free agent Bryce Harper turned down a $300 million midseason extension with the Washington Nationals. While baseball laymen were shocked that the one-time prodigy turned down that much money, we in the baseball world knew he was set to break records with his contract. So, the Nats didn’t land Harper, what’s next?
They should go in on 2019 with full force. Those of you that have read my work in the past know that I have been advocating for the Nationals to move Harper for some time. That wasn’t because I thought they couldn’t compete, because we all know they can, it was more because I saw the writing on the wall. Harper wants to test free agency. The good news is that they will be in the playoff hunt without number 34 and for that reason, they should spend a lot of money this offseason, even though it’s not going to the Harper estate.
They lose one of the best outfielders in the game, but they have two of the most exciting young outfielders in all of baseball with Juan Soto and Victor Robles set to roam around the grass in Nationals Park. Soto, who would likely win the NL rookie of the year award if it weren’t for Ronald Acuña Jr, burst onto the scene in 2018. The big swinging 19-year-old posted a .923 OPS and 3.0 WAR over 116 games and was arguably the club’s MVP in a disappointing season.
Soto is a complete player with plus tools across the board and he is certainly a position player that you can build a franchise around. But, you know what’s better than one franchise type player? Two. Victor Robles was the top name in the Nationals system entering 2018 and if it weren’t for an early elbow injury, he may have spent more time with the big club. Robles still has his rookie eligibility intact entering 2019 and a 1-2 punch of he and Soto, two athletic guys that can do it all, should be reason enough for the Nationals to look to compete in 2019. Throw Adam Eaton into the mix and you have one heck of an outfield.
Losing Harper will no doubt hurt the Nationals lineup, but the outfield is still in great shape. So what about the infield? It is all about health. If Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon stay healthy they provide two particular skill sets that are crucial to the Nationals’ success. Turner’s speed and Rendon’s hit tool are second to none. The club will retain Ryan Zimmerman‘s services for one more season, but a big power bat to either platoon with him or come off of the bench would be a nice addition.
Now the keystone. The Nationals are high on prospects Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, and while Kieboom may be Major League ready, I don’t know if he is “everyday starter on a playoff contender ready”. In my opinion, a Brian Dozier deal is a no-brainer. I’d bet Dozier would be willing to accept a one year deal and he would be a great final piece to an already relatively stacked lineup. That one year deal would also allow Kieboom to get one more year of seasoning. It’s the perfect storm.
With all that money they are saving from not signing Harper, they can afford to add a top half of the rotation starter to back up Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin both make sense, but I think Keuchel is a better value for the potential deal he will get. Scherzer, Strasburg, Keuchel would be a devastating top three, but we need to focus on the real issue at hand.
The Achilles heel for the Nationals historically has been the bullpen. I think if you’re the Nats this is where the real investment needs to be made. Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller may be pipe dreams, but there are some guys on the next tier that I think make sense for the Nats. Let’s start with the ninth inning. Sign either Jeurys Familia or Zach Britton, move Sean Doolittle to the eighth inning and that becomes a pretty dynamic duo. Depending on the resources that are left, add an Adam Ottavino or a Joe Kelly and all of a sudden you are taking away the last three innings of the game (in theory).
The Nationals would be competitive with their current roster in 2019 even if they didn’t make any additions. However, if they make a few upgrades in free agency they could potentially be the division favorites. A one year deal for Dozier, add Keuchel to the rotation, get one of the top of the line closers and a decent setup man, this becomes a World Series contender. Of course, all of this is easier said than done, but the club clearly has money to spend if they choose to go that route, they’re crazy if they don’t. The Nats absolutely need to go all in on 2019.