There should not be much doubt in what the top two priorities are for Washington Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo for this off-season. He has already said that improving the starting rotation with the departure of Gio Gonzalez and Jeremy Hellickson is a top priority along with finding a frontline catcher with Matt Wieters headed to free agency. Somewhere intertwined in all of that, Rizzo has stated that re-signing Bryce Harper is something they want to do, and Harper is in the plans — but we all know that just saying you want something is not always enough.
How many starting pitchers Rizzo acquires is unknown as the Nationals activated Joe Ross from the 60-day DL in September from his recovery from UCL (Tommy John) surgery, and Tanner Roark is due for his final year of arbitration. The Nationals control Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross for 2019.
There of course will be other priorities which could be filled in-house like the bullpen which will need to figure out the 8th inning set-up spot vacated by Ryan Madson. It is possible that the Nats fill that with the newly acquired Kyle Barraclough or look to the outside.
Another hole is the spot that opened up after Daniel Murphy was traded which has left a permanent opening at the second base position. The Nationals could look to fill that in-house with Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick. The issue with Kendrick is he is recovering from an achilles injury which could limit his speed and movement. The Nationals could also look to their farm system as Carter Kieboom is playing both second base and shortstop in the prestigious Arizona Fall League as he represents the Washington Nationals in that league.
“Carter has never played second base in his professional career,” Rizzo said last week. “So it would be unfair for me to throw him there at the big league level.”
Update that statement now that Carter Kieboom has played second base, and he did quite well according to scouts we talked to who thought he looked like a mix between Ian Kinsler and D.J. LeMahieu. Speaking of Kinsler and LeMahieu, they are both pending free agents along with some other interesting names that include Jed Lowrie, Murphy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, and many others.
“Our goal is to always strive to get better,” Rizzo said. “We feel really good about the organization as a whole. We like the core group of players that we have under control — on the roster.
“So I consider this [past season] an anomaly. I think that we’re going to reboot next year, make some adjustments and compete for the National League East again.”
Cash spending should open up, and there are a few tender/non-tender resolutions to make along with the team’s predominant decision as to whether or not Bryce Harper will be retained by the Nationals. The decision to retain Harper will change the team’s salary budget by roughly $30 million give or take a few million. It could also change the team’s need to acquire a left-handed first baseman and possibly decisions on trading/retaining players like Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor.
Stay tuned on that as well as whether or not Trea Turner reaches Super Two status as that will impact the budget as will whether or not Rizzo trades any players or tenders/non-tenders players which will further impact the budget. Our numbers are at $153 million currently on our salary chart, and with Turner’s Arb 1 the Nationals would have $52.8 million to spend on free agents without Bryce Harper.
MLB Trade Rumors over the weekend excerpted portions of the following from a Washington Post article:
“The Nationals have $112MM committed to 23 players for next season, Janes estimates, adding that MLBTR’s projected salaries for their seven arbitration-eligible players push the number to $152MM.
Per Janes, who writes that Washington does “not want to come close” to the CBT in 2019. In the end, Janes expects the Nationals to spend around $180MM…”
Our numbers are very close to Jane’s numbers referenced in the first paragraph with the only difference being we are $1 million higher at a projection of $153 million. With the CBT (Competitive Balance Tax) set at $206 million for 2019, we have projected the Nationals are about $52.8 under the CBT cap.
The difference though in sourced information on the spending is vastly different from our sourced information, however, and in fairness, reached out to Chelsea Janes who told me that the $180 million is not “a hard cap, but heard that’s around the target, if not less.”
Our sources have told us, “…[the Nats] will once again strategically work like always to acquire players to meet our roster goals for  and beyond while working to our monetary goals. No hard numbers have been set yet — we want to get under the [Competitive Balance Tax threshold].” If you used $180 million as a top of the range, you would blow that away with just re-signing Bryce Harper unless there were some sizable ‘cuts’ making it seem unrealistic to significantly upgrade starting pitching and add a frontline catcher — unless you do not re-sign Harper then the numbers could and should work, but that would give the Nats just a net to spend of $27 million from the current projections.
Here is the list of pending free agent starting pitchers:
|Name||Age||2018 IP||ERA||2018 Salary|
This is the chart we compiled from free agent catchers who could be a fit for the Nationals opening for a frontline catcher:
As we showed yesterday, the Washington Nationals are already linked to six of the Top-10 free agents, and some of those free agents like Bryce Harper and Patrick Corbin will receive contracts well in excess of $20 million a year and Harper could be in the $30 million AAV range.