The Nationals are living on borrowed time before Bryce Harper hits free agency. Is this the year they take a step forward?
Washington Nationals (95-67)
Adam Eaton acquired from White Sox
Signed Matt Wieters for 2 years, $21 million with an opt out
Signed Joe Blanton for 1 year, $4 million
Signed Adam Lind for 1 year, $1.5 million, with mutual option
Signed Vance Worley, Joe Nathan, Matt Albers, Neal Cotts, Jeremy Guthrie, and John Lannan to minor league deals
Wilson Ramos signed with Rays
Mark Melancon signed with Giants
Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning traded to White Sox
Mark Rzepczynski signed with Mariners
Danny Espinosa traded to Angels
Matt Belisle signed with Twins
Ben Revere signed with Angels
The Nationals paid a high price to bring in Adam Eaton early in the offseason, but let the free agent market come to them, making a couple big free agent signings in Matt Wieters and Joe Blanton in the last days before Spring Training when their prices fell precipitously. They also made reasonable one-year commitments to role players like Adam Lind and brought back Stephen Drew to back up around the infield, and signed interesting veterans to minor league deals in the hopes of catching lightening in a bottle.
They seemed to spend the entire offseason in search of a closer, and they never found one. Mark Melancon turned down their offer. So did Aroldis Chapman. And, strangely, they never pursued Brad Ziegler, really the only bargain on the market with experience at the end of games. Their efforts this spring to trade for David Robertson, of the White Sox, have also fallen flat. This has left the Nats with a lot of good arms, but no clear choice to lock down games in the late innings. Given how important shutdown relievers have become in the playoffs, look for Mike Rizzo to try to upgrade this spot mid-season, assuming the Nats are again atop the NL East.
Still, the offseason was largely successful for the Nats, who need to reduce their commitments beyond 2018, when Bryce Harper either signs a massive contract extension or leaves and the club is forced to rebuild. All of their moves are helpful now and, even though Eaton is signed through 2012, he’s a fantastic player, figures to hold onto his value for the next several years, and is locked in at a very reasonable (and tradable) price. The Nats have hard decisions coming up, and thankfully did nothing to limit themselves when D-day arrives while bolstering themselves for another run at the NL pennant.
They have one of the strongest double play combinations in the game, a great third baseman in Anthony Rendon, a reliable catcher behind the plate, a star studded (if somewhat fragile) starting rotation, a deep bullpen, and two potential MVP candidates in the outfield in Harper and Eaton. They addressed their biggest weakness (first base), by bringing in Lind as a potential strong side of a platoon, should Ryan Zimmerman falter again. Really, Washington should be considered the favorite to repeat as the NL East champions, with the Mets as their only real competition.