The Nationals could turnover at least 40% of their current roster and that could be higher depending on opt-outs. If all of the 11 free agents on the MLB roster leave, that will free up nearly $88 million in cash which general manager Mike Rizzo can spend elsewhere. But maybe there are some names on the list who the Nationals should retain like Matt Adams and Jeremy Hellickson. The debate will also rage on about Bryce Harper, and the smart move would be to trade him now instead of receiving little compensation in the 2019 draft. The Nationals will almost certainly turn down Brandon Kintzler‘s team option portion, however Kintzler holds the cards for a player option at $5 million. Then you have the most curious case of Tanner Roark who is due for his final season of arbitration, and he is making nearly $6.5 million and looking for a 2019 raise which we estimate near $10 million.
It seems a fine time to extend Matt Adams now and use some of that Roark money on Jeremy Hellickson. Right now the Nationals hold the rights for 2019 for Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Jefry Rodriguez, and Austin Voth for the starting rotation. If you extend Hellickson, you have enough to put together a good rotation and add to it with a J.A. Happ or a Patrick Corbin.
The outfield without Bryce Harper looks like Juan Soto LF, Victor Robles CF, and Adam Eaton RF with Michael A. Taylor and Andrew Stevenson on the bench. If the Nationals retain Harper then you probably keep Robles in the Minor Leagues or look to make Soto your 1st baseman of the future if Matt Adams isn’t retained long-term.
The infield has Anthony Rendon 3B, Trea Turner SS, Vacant 2B, Vacant 1B. The Nationals will get Howie Kendrick back for 2019 and they still control Wilmer Difo with Carter Kieboom in the wings. Brian Dozier is set to be a free agent and could fit in as another option. The Nationals also control Ryan Zimmerman for the final year of his contract if they reject his 2020 team option. Retaining the left-handed Matt Adams makes good sense or a move of Soto to 1st base is a creative alternative.
For the catchers, the team controls Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino, and Raudy Read. The catcher’s spot remains a large hole going forward. Even if the Nationals are not contenders this year, J.T. Realmuto still makes sense to acquire so you have him for 2019 and 2020 or risk dipping into the free agent market for Yasmani Grandal who will be in high demand. Of course Wilson Ramos is also a pending free agent, but there will be trade opportunities which could also be appealing beyond Realmuto.
The Nationals bullpen starts with Sean Doolittle who the Nationals control on a team option. Brandon Kintzler will most likely take his player option to remain with the team, and Justin Miller remains on team control along with Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, Koda Glover, Wander Suero and Trevor Gott. The team will almost certainly look for a big arm to replace Ryan Madson.
From Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post: “…with the arrival of Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Carter Kieboom and Erick Fedde, plus the return of starter Joe Ross from injury, the Nats will be assured of fresh blood and energy. With about $70 million dropping off the payroll at the end of the season, the Nats also will be primed for a winter loaded with classy free agents.”
While we are not sure about Boz’s math skills as the $88 million is accurate or the inclusion of Erick Fedde in the equation, what does Boz mean about classy free agents?
Some of the needs for next year can be acquired now from the current roster and a smart trade. Matt Adams and Jeremy Hellickson should be considered for contract extensions, and the Nationals should still continue to pursue Realmuto even if they have to trade Carter Kieboom and a minor league catcher along with a minor league pitching prospect.