Fresh off a season in which his team won its first World Series in franchise history, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has kept himself busy. As of January 6th, the defending champs had signed nine big-league free agents, as well as several notable minor-league free agents. These moves have largely addressed their needs in terms of the bullpen and in terms of infield depth, as well as keeping some familiar faces in the District a little while longer. Despite all of these deals however, there could still be more to come.
The most glaring need for this team going into 2020 was the bullpen. It was bad. Everybody knows it was bad. So, Mike Rizzo has been trying to make it better. Relievers David Hernandez and Fernando Abad were brought in, both on minor league deals. Javy Guerra was brought back from last year’s pen, also on a minor league deal. They have also made waves with several major-league relievers as well, signing Will Harris from the Houston Astros (7.5 bWAR in 309 appearances since 2015) to a 3-year/$24 million deal on January 2. Playoff hero Daniel Hudson, who had a 1.44 ERA with a 23/4 K/BB ratio after being traded to the Nats from Toronto at the deadline, inked a 2-year/$11 million deal on January 6. Overall, it looks like these additions, coupled with veteran closer Sean Doolittle and promising fireballer Tanner Rainey, should finally push the Nats’ bullpen over the hum of mediocrity and hopefully make them at least average. But, I said that before this year too, so who knows.
The other main need for the club was the infield, especially after seeing Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, and especially star third baseman Anthony Rendon all depart in free agency. Luckily, they have re-signed Kendrick (2.6 bWAR, .966 OPS in 2019) and Cabrera (,969 OPS in 38 games with WSH in 2019) to team-friendly one-year deals worth $6.25 million and $2.5 million, respectively. They also brought in former Marlins middle infielder Starlin Castro (.270/.300/.436 in 162 games in 2019) on a two-year/$12 million dollar contract, and added former Brewers 1B/OF Eric Thames (25 HR, 61 RBI, .851 OPS in 2019) for one year at $3 million with a mutual option for 2021 valued at an additional $3 million, but, as Jeff Passan pointed out after the signing, mutual options hardly ever seem to be picked up.
Washington re-signed two other players who were outside their area of need, but will still have an impact on the team in 2020. This group consists of C Yan Gomes, who signed for two more years at $5 million each, and, of course, right-handed starter and franchise icon Stephen Strasburg, who inked a 7-year, $245 million deal during the Winter Meetings in December. Gomes and Strasburg were integral parts of the Nats’ 2019 title run, and they’ll need big seasons from these two again if they want to repeat.
The story of Washington’s offseason has almost been more about who they haven’t signed, rather than who they have. The obvious here would be Anthony Rendon, who had a monster 6.3 bWAR, 1.010 OPS season in which he finished third in NL MVP voting, who signed a deal with the Los Angeles Angels that ended up being identical to the one that Strasburg signed in terms of years and value. The departure of Rendon left an MVP-sized hole in the lineup, so many figured it could be filled by Josh Donaldson, the former Braves infielder who was actually won MVP in 2015, and experienced a rebirth of sorts in 2019, posting a .900 OPS and 6.1 bWAR with Atlanta last year. The number of infielders signed recently, as well as top prospect Carter Kieboom’s highly-anticipated return to the bigs, have likely rendered their chances of signing Donaldson slim to none. Finally, fan-favorite and “Mr. National” Ryan Zimmerman also remains unsigned after the team declined his $18 million option for 2020, which made sense, considering he has played only 137 games over the last two years, though he has played pretty well when healthy, posting a bWAR of 1.1 in those games. Personally, I don’t see any way that they don’t bring him back, despite the recent influx of infielders, but if they don’t, he has said that he wouldn’t play for any other franchise.
Clearly, the Nats have been quite active this winter. So active in fact, that, according to Jeff Passan, Washington has actually spent the second-most this offseason, with $314.8 million committed, trailing only the Yankees, who have signed players to $336.5 million worth of contracts.
This spending makes it obvious that the Nats don’t want to win once and be done. If you look at the moves that Mike Rizzo has made so far this winter, he plans to be here to stay.
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