The off-season continues although the six days between Christmas and New Year’s day is usually slow. There has not been one Top-10 free agent signed to this point. As a matter of fact, only 22 of the top 80 free agents have been signed. The Washington Nationals compared to other teams have been relatively busy in contrast as Mike Rizzo signed #23 rated Brandon Kintzler and Matt Adams who was not initially rated as he was on the Braves roster. Adams certainly would have been in the Top-80 if he was eligible at the time Heyman compiled his report.
Nats’ general manager Mike Rizzo has brought back several minor league free agents including starting pitcher Tommy Milone, reliever David Goforth, utility-man Ryan Raburn, 3B Michael Almanzar, and former Nats’ draftee SS Jason Martinson.
What does Mike Rizzo still need to accomplish? The Nationals could fill some holes in the back of the starting rotation, back-up catcher, and a right-handed bat for the bench. Two interesting names that Mike Rizzo could go back to are free agents Jayson Werth and Yunel Escobar. One thing about Yuni is that he abuses lefty pitchers and last year .343 with a .391 OBP. Escobar can also hit righties as he hit right-handed starters last year at .259. Jayson Werth could still find a spot on this roster if he was willing to accept a bench spot. On catchers, Alex Avila is still available in free agency. Avila is a master at working pitchers and last year finished with a .387 OBP and would have been much higher if he didn’t struggle so much after he was traded to the Cubs.
If money was not an issue, the Nationals could still go big on a free agent starting pitcher. The Nationals appear clearly destined to be above the competitive balance tax threshold of $197 million. On pitchers, the Nats will be tied to Jake Arrieta who is a Scott Boras candidate and have been mentioned before as fits with Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn.
There are a myriad of other opportunities on the trade front, and Sao Magnifico did an extensive analysis of names:
The Los Angeles Dodgers have made it known they wouldn’t mind trading Yasmani Grandal, their former frontline catcher who has recently been supplanted by Austin Barnes. Could the Nats be a match for Grandal, a pure rental in his final year of arbitration eligibility before he becomes a free agent?
- He can definitely hit. Grandal owns a career .774 OPS and is coming off back-to-back seasons with more than 20 home runs. He would be a tremendous power upgrade over Matt Wieters, let alone Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino.
- Outstanding at pitch framing. Grandal ranked second behind only Tyler Flowers in runs above average due to framing this year. The Dodgers have a great pitching staff, and an important part of their success is Grandal’s ability to get strikes on borderline pitches.
- It’s not a huge cash commitment. Because Grandal is due for another raise this winter, his salary is as-yet undetermined but will likely well exceed his $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season. But he’s a free agent after that, so the Nats wouldn’t be taking on payroll space they might like to save for a Bryce Harper or Daniel Murphy extension.
- The Dodgers are interested in moving on from him. This isn’t because Grandal isn’t a good player. But this is the last chance Los Angeles has to get significant value for him, and they’ve been happy with the emergence of Barnes, a local kid from Riverside. Grandal didn’t see much action in the playoffs, with Barnes starting all but two games. He’s a true backup now for the Dodgers, but he could be more for most other teams.
- He could platoon with Wieters. Like Lobaton and Wieters, Grandal switch-hits. But while Wieters struggled badly this year from the left side of the plate, Grandal hit for a better average and more power as a left-handed stick. He and Wieters could slide into a true platoon setup, with Grandal starting against right-handed pitchers and Wieters starting against southpaws.
- Not a long-term solution. This is the flip side to Grandal not taking up payroll in 2019 and beyond. The Nats have catching prospects in the pipeline, but none of them are great, so the ideal thing would be to add a longer-term option at a reasonable price point. That isn’t Grandal.
- Strikes out quite a bit. Grandal owns a 23.8% career strikeout rate, but he’s topped that in each of the last two seasons, striking out in 27% of plate appearances this year. Think Danny Espinosa. When he connects, the ball can go a long, long way, but there are enough times he doesn’t connect for it to be annoying.
- As a backstop, he’s not always there. Prospect Raudy Read takes flak for the number of pitches that get by him. Meanwhile, Grandal has thrice led the league and twice led all of baseball in passed balls — most recently this year, when he was charged with a career-high 16. Though he’s an otherwise average defensive catcher, Grandal’s Achilles heel is that you can’t always trust a pitch in the zone or close will end up in his mitt.
- He’s not going to be cheap next year. Grandal isn’t a star like Harper, so his third and final year of arbitration eligibility isn’t going to see his salary in the Nats’ upper echelon for 2018 if he is acquired. But it’s not unreasonable to think his pay could approach the $10.5 million already committed to Wieters. A $20 million catching tandem is a lot, considering neither Grandal nor Wieters are exactly Buster Posey.
- It might not be easy to match up with the Dodgers. These two teams haven’t dealt much. Part of the reason might be that they have both been National League heavyweights for the past five years, facing each other in the playoffs in 2016. Los Angeles may be disinclined to send a quality player to Washington. Rizzo may be wary of giving up a potentially useful prospect or two to restock the Dodgers’ somewhat depleted but still very good farm system. In the end, these two teams might not be able to agree on a suitable return for Grandal — or anyone else, for that matter.
The Nats reportedly love Miami Marlins stud catcher J.T. Realmuto, and why not? But as we all know, love isn’t always enough to make something work out. A Realmuto-to-Nats transaction would undoubtedly be one of the biggest blockbusters of the winter.
- He’s young and controllable. Realmuto isn’t set to reach free agency until after the 2020 season. Barring injury, the Nats could pretty much forget having to add an everyday-capable catcher until their young core breaks up. Realmuto will be 27 on Opening Day, so he’ll be in his prime years through the end of his contract.
- Really good offensively. Realmuto is a career .280/.750 hitter. Those numbers aren’t going to stun you coming from a corner outfielder or a first baseman, but from a catcher in the contemporary era, that’s superb production. Well-rounded, Realmuto has demonstrated year-over-year improvements in his walk rate and ability to hit for power.
- Pretty fast, actually. There aren’t many catchers these days who can bat leadoff. Realmuto can. For the Nats, gifted with speedsters Eaton, Trea Turner, Michael A. Taylor, and Victor Robles, it’s doubtful he would. But he can, and he can steal a few bases. It’s a toolset you just don’t expect from a catcher in today’s game.
- He’s pretty cheap. Realmuto is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and he’s projected to make $4.2 million. That salary will rise year over year, but with Wieters’ $10.5 million per-annum outlay coming off the books after the 2018 season, it wouldn’t be much of a problem, especially considering he is a frontline catcher.
- He’d push Wieters to the bench. Wieters was one of the worst everyday players in baseball in 2017, actually worse than his backup Lobaton was in 2016 by the numbers. Even though Wieters is earning a fairly high salary, his stats say he’s an overpaid bench bat, and that’s what Realmuto would make him.
- There’s no platoon potential. The Nats have indicated they expect Wieters’ production levels to improve if he plays less often. But because Realmuto is a right-handed hitter who, like Wieters, enjoys the most success against left-handed pitching, there’s no natural configuration that would maximize Wieters’ chances for success. This would likely be a pretty traditional everyday/backup pairing, with Realmuto getting 70-80% of the starts and Wieters playing on the days Realmuto gets rest.
- Not a great defender. Realmuto won’t embarrass you behind the plate, but he was charged with nine passed balls and 44 wild pitches were recorded on his watch this season. Some of that is down to Miami’s poor pitching. But for the criticisms of Wieters as a poor blocker, his 2017 ledger shows five passed balls and 28 wild pitches. (Realmuto did catch the equivalent of ten more games than Wieters during the season, to be fair.)
- It’d take a haul to get him. Even though the Marlins are selling off valuable pieces like a millionaire getting into the tiny-house movement, Realmuto isn’t going to weigh too heavily on any team’s books, and he has a rare skillset for a catcher that includes a good arm, a good bat, and good speed on the basepaths. Miami CEO Derek Jeter won’t be a motivated seller. That means any team that wants him will have to offer a very, very attractive package of prospects and cheap major league talent.
- He could be packaged with a bad contract. This is sort of an addendum to the last bullet point. The Marlins might not even part with Realmuto for a great prospect package unless they can lift a bigger burden off their balance sheets. Jeter could insist on including an overpaid veteran like infielder Martin Prado or starter Wei-Yin Chen in any trade involving Realmuto. While the Nats could use Prado or Chen, neither is a reliable bet and either would be quite expensive, too.
- It’d be an intra-division trade. These aren’t quite as taboo as they used to be, but it’s something to think about. Those good prospects Rizzo would have to send to Miami to get Realmuto could easily show up in a Marlins uniform to play 19 games per year against the team for which they could have been stars. Likewise, Miami will be leery of giving up Realmuto to a division rival for less than a total overpay.
The Buffalo was a fan favorite in Washington, D.C. After suffering a season-ending ACL tear in 2016, Wilson Ramos ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was expected to return midway through the year and play many of his games as the designated hitter. But Ramos ended up behind the plate faster and more often than prognosticators thought he would. With the Rays not expected to contend next year, could they send Ramos back to Washington?
- He was a great National. Aside from a bum 2015 campaign in which he struggled with degenerated vision, Ramos was consistently good in Washington, hitting about .270 with some power. After getting laser eye surgery in early 2016, he went on to have an All-Star season before his injury. He was downright fearsome at controlling the running game, throwing out 44% of runners attempting to steal in 2015 and 37% in 2016.
- The acquisition cost would be minimal. There really isn’t any good reason for Tampa Bay to retain Ramos for 2018. When the Rays signed him to a two-year deal, he was a perfect candidate to rehabilitate the first year and flip the second year. Tampa Bay isn’t primed to compete and Ramos will take up a considerable piece of their tiny payroll. A couple minor prospects might just do it.
- He knows Washington’s pitching staff. Ramos has caught everyone in the Nats’ projected 2018 rotation. In fact, he’s caught the only three no-hitters in team history, two of them authored by current staff ace Max Scherzer. The adjustment period would be virtually nonexistent.
- He’d be an above-average backup. For years, Ramos was the primary catcher for the Nats, with a supporting cast of light-hitting backups like Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano, Lobaton, and Severino. If acquired for the 2018 season, he would likely slot behind Wieters as the kind of backup to whom management would be comfortable giving a significant share of playing time.
- Fans would love it. Ramos could invigorate a fanbase that hasn’t really embraced Wieters. Every time through the lineup that Ramos entered the batter’s box, the home crowd at Nationals Park would chant “WIL-SON!” The team would sell Ramos gear, just as it did during his original stint with the Nats. Don’t underestimate the marketing power and energy factor of bringing back an old fave.
- He’d be an expensive backup. Ramos is due to make $8.5 million. That salary figure likely motivates the Rays to sell, but it’d mean a $19 million commitment for the Nats to their two catchers if they acquired him for 2018. It’s hard not to think there are more cost-effective options available.
- Not a long-term solution. Ramos turns 31 next year and he’s a free agent at the end of the season. While fans would doubtless clamor for an extension, the Nats would be ill-advised to retain Ramos into his decline years, and Ramos would likely seek a deal as an everyday catcher. In 2019, the Nats would be looking for two new catchers, and its current prospects might or might not be candidates for those jobs.
- A nasty injury history. When Ramos landed awkwardly after jumping to catch a relay from first base in September 2016 and tore his ACL, it was actually the second time he’s suffered that injury in the same knee. He’s also had hamstring issues in the past. This year, Ramos played just half a season and could DH when needed. Would his body hold up to a full year in the National League, even as a backup?
- He hasn’t been a great Ray. Though far from terrible, Ramos turned in a roughly replacement-level campaign for the Rays this year. His caught-stealing rate plummeted to a shockingly low 17%. His hitting regressed to a more workmanlike .260/.737 after his stellar 2016 season. Any team that acquires Ramos this winter will hope for a rebound on both counts.
- Not particularly athletic. At 260 lbs on a 6′ 1″ frame, Ramos is on the chunky side. While anyone who follows him on Twitter knows Ramos is rigorous about strength-building exercises, his big frame and battered knees limit his speed. That shows up in his perpetually high double-play numbers and could be one of the reasons why he has been injured several times in his career.
Another NL East catcher the Nats would probably love to add is Tyler Flowers of the Atlanta Braves. A pure rental for any team that might acquire him this winter, Flowers formed one-half of the Braves’ strong catching tandem with former National Kurt Suzuki in 2017 and is set to reprise that role (again with Suzuki) in 2018. A right-handed hitter, he had virtually no platoon splits this year, making him viable against both left- and right-handed pitching as a possible backup or platoon partner.
- He’s a Greek god when it comes to pitch-framing. Flowers blew away the competition in runs above average in framing this year. He’s basically the anti-Wieters, providing value by getting strike calls on pitches that might otherwise be called balls.
- Real improvement as a hitter. Flowers was nothing special at the plate up until 2016, when he broke out with an extremely solid .270/.777 campaign after moving to Atlanta. He built on that in 2017, putting up a .281/.823 line. One season might be a fluke, but two looks like Flowers might be a late bloomer. (Get it?)
- Reaching base any way he can. If Flowers just hit for average, that’d be nice, but he enhances his offensive skills by crowding the plate and being unafraid to be hit by a pitch. While his walk rate is pretty low, his on-base percentage was nearly 100 points higher than his average this year (.378) in part because he reached base 20 times on a hit-by-pitch. (By comparison, he took a base on balls 31 times.) The Nats know this hard-nosed approach can be useful from their time with Danny Espinosa.
- A trade would pry him away from a potential competitor. The Braves are pitching-poor but still eager to contend in the NL East. Adding Flowers would also subtract him from the Braves. It’s simple math.
- Great contract situation. Flowers is under contract for just one more year at $4 million, quite reasonable for a player of his value. Adding him wouldn’t pour too much red ink on the Nats’ books in the short term and would have no long-term impact on their ability to spend next winter.
- He’d be a short-timer. This is the flip side of that, as the Nats would be in the hunt again for catchers next winter as Flowers and Wieters hit free agency together. Thirty-two in January, Flowers is a poor candidate for an extension even if he performs well in 2018.
- A history of strikeouts. Like most parts of Flowers’ offensive game, his strikeout rate has improved since he became a Brave, dropping to a somewhat tolerable 22.2% this season. For his career, though, his strikeout rate is 30.5%. Regression here would be most unwelcome.
- No ability to control the running game. Somehow, astonishingly, 95% of runners attempting to steal a base with Flowers behind the plate made it in 2016. Flowers’ caught-stealing rate improved to 23% this year, but that’s still below average. A big part of this is on the pitchers, but man, this is not a strength for him.
- Some blocking issues. Flowers was charged with nine passed balls and had 36 wild pitches get past him this season. Those numbers aren’t obscene but aren’t particularly good, either.
- The Braves might not want to trade him to the Nats. Intra-division trades can be tricky, and with an asset with Flowers’ value, the Braves would be in a position to demand more to get a deal done with their rivals in Washington than with, say, an American League ballclub. If Rizzo has his heart set on Flowers, he very well might have to overpay to get him.
Moving off catchers for now, the Nats also have a need for some bench reinforcements. San Diego Padres utilityman Yangervis Solarte could help, if a deal could be struck. The Padres are not primed to contend in an extremely tough NL West division, and Solarte could be among the pieces they market this week in Orlando.
- Positional flexibility. Solarte could back up Murphy at second base, Anthony Rendon at third base, Trea Turner at shortstop, and even Ryan Zimmerman at first base. He doesn’t commit a lot of errors and has experience all over the diamond. That’s valuable for a team that has had success giving its players some time off every so often.
- Actually not a bad hitter. Utility infielders who can’t hit a lick grow on trees. But Solarte has the bat of an everyday player, at least on a non-competitive team like the Padres. His career .267/.746 batting line won’t blow anyone away, but the Nats could feel OK about giving him some starts with numbers like that, and if someone goes down to injury for an extended period, he won’t be an embarrassingly poor fill-in.
- Power numbers with upside. Solarte’s home field is the yawning chasm known as PETCO Park. Despite that, he’s a consistent longball threat, hitting a career-high 18 homers this year after hitting 15 last year and 14 the year before that. Those numbers could rise given a more neutral home field like Nationals Park.
- He’s controllable on the team’s terms. Solarte could become a free agent after 2018 for just a $750,000 buyout, or his club could pick up a $5.5 million option on him for 2019. After that, there’s an $8 million option on him for 2020, also with that modest $750,000 buyout. For a team facing some uncertainty with Murphy set to become a free agent next winter and Rendon the winter after that, barring an extension, that’s really quite useful.
- It probably wouldn’t take too much to acquire him. The Padres are known to be trying to add some star free agents like Eric Hosmer this winter, but they are not primed to compete in a division dominated by the Dodgers and also boasting tough teams in the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. That means if it’s not bolted down, it could be for sale. The Nats have made a few deals with the Padres in recent years, and while San Diego general manager A.J. Preller will be wary of another fleecing like the trade that sent Turner to Washington, we know these front offices can deal. This trade would likely be pretty similar to the one that brought Yunel Escobar to D.C. back in 2015.
- He’s not particularly adept on the basepaths. You’d expect a utility infielder to be a fleet-footed threat to steal when he reaches base. But Solarte has a whopping five career stolen bases, three of them recorded in 2017 alone. That’s kind of odd for a guy who can play a decent, albeit unspectacular, shortstop.
- The Nats already have a switch-hitting backup infielder. It’s not that there’s only room for one of those guys on the roster, but Solarte would essentially be a redundancy for Wilmer Difo, or vice versa. They’re not identical, as Difo is a speedster who lacks Solarte’s slugging numbers, and Solarte has much more playing experience, but since the Nats have limited trade chips and payroll space this winter, acquiring Solarte might not be the best use of either.
- He’d be a fairly well-paid reserve. Solarte isn’t raking in the bucks, but at $4.125 million next year, he’s more than a rounding error on the ledger. The Nats already balked at the idea of paying Adam Lind $5 million next year and are thought to be pursuing a cheaper bench for 2018. Solarte may or may not be a financial fit.
- He’s had some injuries. Obviously, Solarte’s most notable leave of absence from the Padres came last year when he left the team for a few days to care for his dying wife — a tragic situation for which absolutely no one would begrudge him missing time. But he’s also spent time on the disabled list, suffering a hamstring injury last year and an oblique injury this year. The Nats already experienced the difficulties of having a key veteran backup lose significant playing time with Stephen Drew and, before him, Nate McLouth. And as they know, injuries can be a recurring problem for some players.
- Lots of double plays. This is just a weird stat for someone who makes his living playing around the infield. He grounded into 18 double plays this season. The Nats have seen this phenomenon before, though, and it did bite them as Escobar grounded into a league-leading 24 double plays as their starting third baseman in 2015.
Not the Iglesias many Nats fans wanted at the trade deadline this season, Jose Iglesias is the Detroit Tigers’ starting shortstop and a former Rookie of the Year finalist. The Tigers could seek to trade Iglesias while they still can, as he’s entering his final year of arb-eligibility and will be a free agent next winter. Oh, and he’s a Boras Corp. client…just in case that’s relevant.
- Remarkably smooth on defense. Iglesias has never committed many errors despite his demanding defensive position. The Nats could feel confident in his ability to come in as a defensive replacement and not make any miscues. That could be especially appealing to Martinez, as the use of defensive replacements has been de rigeur for his former teams under Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon for years.
- Decent average. As an offensive player, Iglesias isn’t going to blow you away, but while he’s underperformed it for two seasons in a row now, he is a career .270 hitter. He also doesn’t strike out much, with a 12.3% career rate of strikeouts in his plate appearances. That makes him a useful pinch-hit option when contact is required.
- He has third-base experience. The conventional wisdom is that a shortstop has the athleticism and acumen to play pretty much anywhere. Iglesias would likely be used as a utility infielder, backing up Murphy, Turner, and Rendon, but he could be particularly useful in supporting the latter. Difo has very little experience playing third base, so Iglesias would cover that weakness well while providing a redundancy at shortstop and second base.
- The Tigers could be motivated sellers. Detroit is the worst team in the AL Central, posting a 98-loss season this year. Iglesias is gone next year. Barring a deadline trade, this is their last chance to get anything of value for their stalwart shortstop. Expect Tigers general manager Al Avila to be listening on Iglesias if not actively shopping him this week.
- He wouldn’t interfere with future plans. Iglesias is a free agent after the 2018 season. That means while he could be a useful role player next year as the Nats try to win a World Series, he wouldn’t have any effect on their ability to extend Harper or Murphy or make a splash in next winter’s star-studded free agent market.
- He’s underpowered. Nobody signs a utility infielder for their big bat. But Iglesias is particularly underpowered; his six home runs this season were a career high. Filling in for an injury, the difference between Iglesias and someone like Rendon or Murphy would be glaring. He’s just not the same kind of hitter.
- Low walk rate. That decent average could be excellent if Iglesias were the type of player who worked the count and took bases on balls. But he doesn’t, resulting in an on-base percentage that is seriously underwhelming (just .288 this season).
- He’s a pretty mediocre baserunner. Iglesias stole 11 bases in an All-Star season for Detroit in 2015. That’s not bad, except that he was caught eight times. He’s gone 7-for-11 in steal attempts each of the past two seasons. That’s not a lot of value added in the running game.
- He has played exclusively at shortstop for the past three seasons. Iglesias played around the infield some as a rookie, splitting time between third and short. But those utility skills haven’t been needed in a while. He likely has the athleticism to move around, but he’d have to relearn those other positions to some extent. That’s not ideal.
- He’s really not that cheap. The acquisition cost for Iglesias would probably be very low, but that’s in large part because he’s due for a raise from his $4.1 million salary this winter. MLBTR projects he’ll make $5.6 million. That’s more than the Nats were willing to pay Lind next year. The Tigers might be persuaded to eat some of that salary, but that would of course mean giving up a more valuable return in trade.
There’s another Marlin the Nats could really use next season, and it’s peripatetic starting pitcher Dan Straily. Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Straily was reportedly sought after at the deadline, but the Marlins front office at the time chose to hold onto him. With the Marlins now under new management, it’s possible Straily could be dealt for the right return.
- Consistency, which might be surprising. Straily has bounced around MLB, but he ended up with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP as a Marlin this year, which compares neatly to his 4.25 career ERA and 1.27 career WHIP. One might not think of Straily as Mr. Consistent, but in each of his three full seasons as a major league starter, he’s essentially been the same guy.
- Good strikeout numbers. For essentially a back-end guy in a rotation, Straily can rack up the Ks, compiling an 8.4 K/9 this year with a 7.8 career rate. Since the Nats don’t have the world’s greatest defensive infield, pitchers who can keep the ball from being put in play are valued. Straily can do that.
- He’s not going to make bank next year. Because Straily is arb-eligible for the first time this off-season, his earnings will be relatively modest in 2018 for a starting pitcher. MLBTR projects he’ll make $4.6 million next year. That’s definitely acceptable.
- He has experience working in relief. The Nats don’t have a lot of pitching depth waiting in the wings, but as college draftees like Wil Crowe, Seth Romero, and Nick Raquet ascend the system, they could need to think about moving a starter or two into the bullpen in 2019, 2020, or later. Straily worked exclusively as a starter this year, but he’s made 10 career appearances out of the bullpen, so a new role wouldn’t be novel to him.
- The Nats know him. They saw Straily three times this year and have seen him twice other than that, and that doesn’t count spring training. Other target pitchers might be guys the Nats have scouted or seen video of, but management has been able to watch Straily work several times recently. That in-person view can be all-important.
- A whole lot of home runs. Straily has given up 31 home runs two seasons in a row. In 2016, it might have been dismissed as a fluke of having Great American Ball Park as his home field. But with Marlins Park as his base in 2017, that excuse just doesn’t exist anymore. This isn’t a fatal flaw — after all, Scherzer gave up 31 home runs in 2016, too, tying Straily for the league lead, and he is pretty good — but it’s not great.
- He’s on the older side for being a first-year arb player. Straily just turned 29. He’s not over the hill, by any means, but that means he’ll be almost 32 when he hits free agency after the 2020 season. Part of the attraction of getting a player who is arb-eligible is usually that they are a bit further removed from age 30.
- A not-so-fast fastball. Straily’s heater averaged just 91 mph this year. The Nats already have a couple of relatively soft tossers in their rotation in the form of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark. While Straily still has the stuff to be effective, any decline in his velocity could be pretty problematic, and he doesn’t offer a vastly different look than Roark in the rotation.
- It’d mean dealing with the Marlins. As a division rival, Miami will be loathe to give an undue advantage to Washington, and the Nats won’t want to give up too much to the Marlins that could come back to bite them. It might not be easy to match up on Straily’s value.
- The Marlins aren’t likely to be motivated sellers. Straily offers pretty good bang for the buck even after his expected salary bump. Miami has already cleared Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton from its books, and Marcell Ozuna could be on his way out, too. The Nats, or any other team looking to acquire Straily, would have to make Jeter a pretty good offer. He won’t give away an affordable starter like Straily the way he did with Stanton.
The Nats drafted Marcus Stroman back in 2009 as an eighteenth-rounder out of high school. Stroman chose to go to Duke and ended up as a first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays three years later. It would be meaningful to see him finally wear a Nats uniform, and it might be possible if the Blue Jays sell off this winter.
- Solid control numbers. Stroman has never walked a lot of batters; this year, he posted a 2.8 BB/9, and that’s a career high. Issuing free passes is a great way to run up your pitch count and end up out of the game earlier than your skipper hoped. Stroman doesn’t do that.
- He’s a workhorse. This ties in with the previous point. Stroman posted his second consecutive season with more than 200 innings pitched this year — and that was after pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic this spring. The Nats could count on Stroman to go deep into his starts on the days he pitches, giving their bullpen a welcome respite.
- He can really field his position. Stroman won a Gold Glove this year as a pitcher in the American League. He started six double plays and committed just one error. The Nats do prize defense on the mound — consider Doug Fister, and he only started two double plays in his two seasons with Washington.
- The Nats drafted him. There’s been some turnover since 2009, and in fact, a lot has changed since then. But the Nats scouted Stroman and wanted him in the organization back then. They know his tendencies and who he is as a player. And they just might still have a list of ideas for what to do with him lying around somewhere.
- He’s controllable and still young. Stroman turns 27 next May. He’s going through arbitration for the second time this winter after winning his arbitration case before a panel last off-season as a so-called “Super Two” player. He’s set to reach free agency after the 2020 season. In short, he’d be a staple in Washington for a few years to come, and he won’t be over the hill by the time he hits the open market.
- Not a ton of strikeouts. You normally expect an ace pitcher to set ’em down on strikes, but Stroman isn’t really a strikeout pitcher, equaling his career 7.3 K/9 rate in each of the last two seasons. Stroman instead relies on soft contact and groundouts. That puts his fate in the hands of his infielders, only one of whom in Washington (Rendon) is considered elite.
- So-so peripherals. This follows on to the previous point, but it is worth noting that while Stroman received Cy Young votes this year for his fine 3.09 ERA campaign, he posted a 3.90 FIP and a 1.31 WHIP. For the Nats, he’d be a mid-rotation starter, and for a mid-rotation starter, those numbers are fine. But one can expect some regression on his ERA next year.
- He’s got a temper. Stroman is known to pick fights with players and umpires on the field, and he’s been ejected mid-start, including once this year after literally charging home plate ump Will Little after a borderline pitch was called ball four. This isn’t a cardinal sin, but on a team with a reputation for keeping their heads down and not causing trouble like the Nats, he’d stand out.
- He won’t come cheap. The Blue Jays are now staring down the barrel of a monstrous New York Yankees offense, and the Boston Red Sox are primed for a pretty good 2018 season as well. But even though Toronto should be motivated to sell, they will surely demand a lot to part with Stroman. As one of the wealthier teams in the league, the Blue Jays can pay the $7.2 million Stroman is projected to make through arbitration, and with three seasons of team control remaining, they would be perfectly happy to keep Stroman if they don’t get an offer that knocks their socks off this winter.
- Those arbitration raises will add up. Because Stroman was a Super Two player last year, he’ll end up making four trips through arbitration in total before he reaches free agency. You know who else was a Super Two player? Bryce Harper. You know what he’s making in his fourth year of arb eligibility next year? $21.625 million. Stroman likely won’t get that much for his 2020 season, but it paints a picture. He’ll only be 28 on Opening Day that year.
Every team in baseball would like to have Chris Archer, a franchise player for the Rays and one of the most popular guys in the sport. The Nats might be one of the few organizations positioned to get Archer if Tampa Bay decides it’s finally willing to deal its ace.
- He’s one of the game’s premier strikeout artists. Archer is a K king, with a double-digit K/9 in each of the previous three seasons. He’d fit in well with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, creating a three-headed monster at the top of the Nats’ rotation. These guys are not easy to find.
- He’s an iron man. Archer has averaged 202¼ innings pitched over the past four seasons and led baseball this year with 34 games started. He’s never been on the disabled list. This guy knows how to stay on the field.
- An amazingly club-friendly contract. Because Archer signed an extension with the Rays that bought out his arbitration years, there’s no question marks surrounding what he’ll get paid in the coming seasons through 2021. He’s guaranteed about $6.417 million in 2018 and $7.67 million in 2019 before a couple of eminently affordable club options ($9 million in 2020, $11 million in 2021). This is one of the best contracts in baseball, and the Nats have recently demonstrated a willingness to pay for those kind of contracts (Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle).
- No history in the National League. If Archer jumps across to the NL, most of his opponents won’t have much experience facing him. That can be very, very useful, especially in the playoffs. Advantage: pitcher.
- He’s the kind of player you can build around. Fans love him. At 29, he should have quite a few good years left. His salary is more than manageable. Acquiring Archer would give the Nats a true star player well beyond the expected free agency of Harper without obviating their chances of re-signing him. He is a cornerstone player.
- His recent results haven’t lived up to the hype. The Rays have had a rough go of it lately, and Archer has too. He is coming off his second straight season with an ERA just over 4, and he led MLB with 19 losses last season. For a fourth or fifth starter on a contending team, that’s quite all right, but for a pitcher considered to be an ace, it’s not very impressive. He has underperformed his FIP in each of the past three seasons, which suggests he’s not getting a lot of help from his defense. Would that improve in Washington?
- He’s really struggled on the road. Archer likes home cooking. This year, there was more than a 140-point difference in OPS against between home and away. One never knows how a trade will affect this.
- The Rays have been reluctant to pull the trigger in the past. Archer is perennially named as a trade candidate, but Tampa Bay hasn’t heard an offer it liked yet. This winter could be different. Then again, it might not be. Their past reticence suggests they would likely need to be overwhelmed to consider a trade.
- If he becomes available, there will be a bidding war. You know who else would like Archer? Every single team in baseball. With their middle-of-the-pack farm system and constrained ability to eat bad contracts the Rays might want to offload, the Nats would be facing an uphill battle if Tampa Bay decided to shop Archer around. They probably have the pieces, but then again, so do the Dodgers and the Yankees, among others.
- Is he worth Victor Robles? That’s kind of what this all boils down to. The Nats would need to give up at least one potential future franchise player to acquire a franchise player in Archer. More so than with anyone else on this list, it’s likely it would take Robles as part of the package to Tampa Bay to bring Archer into the fold.
- His youth. Manaea turns 26 in February. A rival organization might see him as young and malleable, potentially an ace in a savvier, more competitive organization than the A’s. And at the very worst, he has years left to mature into the prime of his career.
- He’s left-handed. Right now, the Nats have just one lefty starter, much as they have for the past few seasons. Gio Gonzalez is a free agent after this coming year. Top prospect Seth Romero is likely two or three years away. Manaea would give them a different look from Gonzalez right now (he’s about half a foot taller and throws much harder) as well as a different look from the rest of the rotation now and going forward (because he works from the opposite side).
- His changeup is filthy. In general, Manaea is a groundball pitcher, but his changeup is a true strikeout pitch that drops off the table. It’s a calling-card pitch that should hold up as he ages and develops further in MLB.
- He’s pre-arb. Manaea isn’t even due for a raise until the 2019 season. The Nats front office is looking to hold payroll down as much as it can this year. Making close to the league minimum, Manaea would fit easily into the Nats’ budget in 2018. Also, of course, he could be optioned to the minors if needed.
- The Nats have dealt with Oakland many times before. Rizzo and Oakland executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane are regular trade partners. They know each others’ farm systems and clearly think alike on player valuation much of the time. If the A’s are open to trading Manaea, Rizzo might be the likeliest control person in baseball to match up with Beane on what would be an equitable exchange.
- The results haven’t been there yet. Then a top prospect, Manaea grabbed headlines when the A’s acquired him from the Kansas City Royals for Ben Zobrist in 2015. But he’s been a roughly league-average pitcher across two MLB seasons for Oakland now, and his 1.40 WHIP this season isn’t what the A’s wanted to see. Instead of being an ace and possibly a face-of-the-franchise player, Manaea might end up as a solid mid-rotation arm instead, or even be converted to relief if it better suits his team’s needs.
- Lack of experience. Manaea has yet to top 160 major league innings in a season, so it’s hard to know how he would hold up in the playoffs after pitching 180+ innings in 2018. The Nats are looking for a starter they can trust with the ball in the postseason, and Manaea hasn’t proven he is that guy at this point.
- A limited arsenal. Manaea’s sinking fastball and his changeup are quality pitches, but his slider isn’t as sharp and he doesn’t use it as much. The Nats already have a couple of two-pitch guys on the fringes of their rotation in A.J. Cole and the injured Joe Ross. Is the third one really going to be the charm?
- Shoulder trouble this year. File this one under “could be nothing”, but Manaea missed about half a month with a shoulder strain early in the year. He went on to have a pretty pedestrian 2017 campaign. Shoulder injuries aren’t uncommon for pitchers, and they often don’t have lingering effects once healed, but this would be something to watch out for in a physical.
- Oakland would likely demand a lot for him. Manaea isn’t even arb-eligible yet, and a former first-rounder and useful major league starter making the league minimum has some serious value to a team. The A’s don’t need to trade him. They won’t shop him. If the Nats want Manaea, they will need to offer a package the A’s can’t resist. That likely means at least one top prospect and possibly MLB-ready talent as well.
The Cleveland Indians certainly have no need to sell off quality pieces, but they are overflowing with starting pitching right now, at the same time they are looking for outfield help. Could they match up with the Nats this winter on starter Danny Salazar?
- He racks up the Ks. Salazar has a career 10.5 K/9, and he exceeded it by almost two batters per nine this year. Strikeouts are sexy, and they’re the most reliable way to keep a batter from driving in or scoring runs.
- He throws gas. Salazar has hit 100 mph with his fastball and can dial it up as needed. Then he can pull the string with a mid-80s changeup that ranks among the most effective pitches in baseball. His stuff is electric.
- Experience in relief. The Indians had a logjam in their rotation this season that was addressed at times by having Salazar come in as a reliever. He did well in relief, and if the Nats find themselves needing that kind of flexibility from him a year or two down the road, he could be pressed back into that role. Utility is useful.
- Affordable and controllable. Salazar is projected to earn $5.2 million in 2018, a raise from his $3.4 million salary this year. He is a free agent after the 2020 season, so the Nats would have him through his age-30 season if they acquired him.
- This could be a unique opportunity to acquire him. The Indians aren’t sure what to do with Salazar, as although he is fairly young and pretty effective, they have five other good starters, too, and one more in Cody Anderson who is expected back from UCL replacement surgery sometime before the All-Star Break in 2018. Simply because they have a glut now, the Indians may be willing to trade Salazar for a reasonable return. That might not be the case at the trade deadline or next winter. If the Nats covet Salazar, now would be the time to strike.
- Uneven results. Salazar worked to a 4.28 ERA this season. For the second year in a row, he posted a mediocre 1.34 WHIP. In short, while Salazar is still a competent pitcher, you can see why a pitching-rich organization like Cleveland would consider trading him or relegating him to a bullpen role.
- Control issues. Salazar’s walk rate has climbed after a strong start to his career and has hovered around 4 BB/9 for the past two seasons. Even with his monster strikeout rates, that’s not ideal, and it affects his ability to go deep into starts.
- Durability concerns. Salazar has twice landed on the disabled list with elbow problems in the past two seasons and once more with shoulder soreness. There hasn’t been any indication of serious problems, but the Nats already have a starting pitcher or two who is perennially placed on the DL.
- Super Two. Because Salazar was eligible for arbitration in the 2017 season and isn’t a free agent until after the 2020 season, he’ll go through the arb process four times in total. That can add up, so while he is an affordable asset now, he could make for a tough decision in a couple of winters as to whether to tender him a contract unless he takes forward strides in his overall performance.
- He might be a reliever. Salazar is being considered for a bullpen role in Cleveland, and honestly, it might just be the right fit. He’s pitched in two postseasons now out of the bullpen and did well, he was solid in relief when occasionally called upon for that duty this season, and he mostly relies on that high-90s fastball and lethal change-of-pace, though he has a starter’s arsenal in all. The Nats need a starter, and if they trade for Salazar this winter, they’d be acquiring him at a starter price. They would need to be sure he can stick in the rotation for at least one season, and probably for at least two.
He’s not flashy, by any means, but Patrick Corbin represents an available option for teams looking to rent a serviceable back-end starter this winter, if the Arizona Diamondbacks are willing to trade him. After losing 2014 and much of 2015 due to “Tommy John” surgery, Corbin rebounded with a solid 2017 campaign and could be marketed in his final year of team control.
- He’s coming off a year to build on. This can be a mixed bag with players, but Corbin was awfully promising as a young pitcher before his surgery, and he finally started getting back into that form this year. He’s not the same pitcher, throwing far fewer fastballs and far more sliders than he did before, but his walk rate dropped and his strikeout rate ticked up. Those are good signs.
- He’s a left-hander. Corbin is particularly tough on left-handed hitters and would add a second southpaw to the Nats’ rotation. It’s not vital to have a mix of lefties and righties in a rotation, but it’s always a plus.
- A lot of room for improvement. Corbin’s BABIP against has been sky-high since he returned from Tommy John in 2015, hovering in the high .320s. That stability may indicate he is just what he is, but if opponents’ average when they put the ball in play can get down to a more typical number, Corbin could see big improvements in his results.
- Low-risk proposition. Corbin is a free agent next winter, so even though he’s projected to make $8.3 million in 2018, that payroll comes off the books just in time for the Nats to try to re-sign Harper or Murphy or take a run at the quality free agents expected to be available. So if he’s a dud, there’s no real commitment to him.
- Arizona shouldn’t demand too much. Corbin has value and he won’t be traded for nothing, especially since the Diamondbacks don’t need to get rid of him. But as a pure rental at a not-insignificant price point who is a textbook fourth/fifth starter, Corbin won’t bring back the creme de la creme in prospects, and the Diamondbacks front office knows that.
- Lots of traffic on the basepaths. That nasty BABIP against leads to a rather high WHIP of 1.42 this season and 1.35 on Corbin’s career. Walks aren’t a huge issue, but Corbin averages more than a hit per inning, and that rate really didn’t improve much this year despite better results overall.
- He’s really not good on the road. Chase Field is hardly a pitchers’ paradise, but Corbin did much better there than he did in away games this year, in which he had a 5.09 ERA and a whopping .867 OPS against. These numbers should worry any front office interested in taking him out of Arizona.
- Right-handed batters crush him. Corbin got hit by righties to the tune of .292/.830 this year. Now Stanton might be out of the division, but the likes of Yoenis Cespedes are still around, and in the playoffs, the Nats could have to deal with the likes of Kris Bryant, Justin Turner, and/or Nolan Arenado. How useful would Corbin be as a starter in the playoffs with splits like that?
- He’s going to be paid pretty well for a fifth starter. Sure, it’s just one year, but at a projected $8.3 million, Corbin would take up a considerable piece of payroll space to be a pretty average or slightly below-average starter. The Nats probably have the salary room for him, especially just for a season, but they might prefer a cheaper alternative.
- Limited impact. Mike Rizzo often likes to make a splash when acquiring a player as important as a new starting pitcher, like he did when he added Doug Fister before the 2014 season and Max Scherzer the year after that. Corbin isn’t an impact player, and he’s not a long-term asset, since he’s a free agent next winter. While he might be a sensible type of addition, he wouldn’t be a particularly impressive or meaningful one. It’s hard to want to give up valued trade chips for a player as average as Corbin.