That photo above is the actual Nationals G.M. in an armchair which gives the perfect image of the “armchair G.M.” that we can turn into the “virtual armchair G.M.”, and we do it every off-season. The priorities for this team are clear, and — no — Bryce Harper is not a priority sitting in my armchair.
The infield could be set if Wilmer Difo is penciled in at 2nd base with Carter Kieboom available mid-season and a healthy Howie Kendrick available. If that is the case, the starting infield would be Anthony Rendon 3B, Trea Turner SS, Wilmer Difo 2B, and Ryan Zimmerman 1B to start the season. The Nationals now need a lefty bat to backup Ryan Zimmerman and we will discuss that below _____________.
The catcher position needs a 1A ____________. The Nationals now have a capable backup catcher with Spencer Kieboom.
The bullpen should be set with the acquisitions of Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal, and manager Dave Martinez should have at least a dozen relievers to choose from. The five relievers that look to be part of the seven man bullpen is Sean Doolittle, Rosenthal, Barraclough, Justin Miller, and Matt Grace.
The starting rotation needs help beyond Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg where they could acquire three new pitchers and trade/non-tender Tanner Roark so that could make for _________, __________, _________ in the three spots or they could stick with Roark and Joe Ross and spend more money on a top of the rotation pitcher.
The payroll after the acquisition of Trevor Rosenthal is at $155.2 which is $51 million under the $206 million CBT threshold. The Nationals will have to keep a large buffer to go into the season because of the large $7 million incentives package that Rosenthal has but also to leave room for any July acquisitions. In mid-July, the team should have a good idea of Rosenthal’s incentives. Realistically, the Nationals only have $41 million remaining to spend now with a $10 million buffer, and they could create some more space by trading, DFA’ing, and non-tendering some players. Michael Taylor, for instance, is projected to make $3.2 million this year as an arbitration eligible player, and Tanner Roark is projected at just under $10 million. Sorry Mr. Roark, you are not worth $10 million to this team based on your two back-to-back disappointing seasons averaging a 4.50 ERA, 4.20 FIP, and a 1.308 WHIP. The Nationals could pay much less for that type of production to get close to Roark’s 180 innings pitched. One choice is to negotiate a one-year deal with Roark now at a sum below the $6.5 million he made last year to save a few million. This will be a fluid situation with Roark.
The first two spots are set with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg unless Strasburg was traded in a blockbuster deal which does not seem likely. Joe Ross will be on an innings limit and probably should begin his season slowly so he is available to the Nats for the end of the season. Tanner Roark is a question mark, and the Nationals need to fill the spot of Gio Gonzalez and preferably with a lefty. The most obvious pitcher is Wade Miley who was absolutely brilliant in the postseason and the regular season as he was used like Jeremy Hellickson where his innings were limited. Miley was the best starting pitcher in terms of ERA in this postseason with a 1.23 ERA over 14 2/3 innings in the postseason. Like Nathan Eovaldi, the 2012 Rookie of the Year runner-up to Harper once again showed that he has it. He redeveloped his cutter and it was nasty to go with his curveball, changeup and sinker. His 2.57 ERA for the regular season and 3.59 FIP will get you paid if you can work with him averaging 5.0 innings per game. There is no doubt that Rizzo needs to tie up Miley quickly, and Rizzo has tried to acquire Miley before according to sources. Miley turns 32 in two weeks so he should be looking for a two-year deal with an option at something north of the Jason Vargas deal signed with the Mets last year when he got $8 million per year for two-years plus an $8 million option for a third year. The upper end for Miley could go as high as $12 million a year.
If the Nationals got Miley for $9 million a year that would leave them $32 million to spend. Could they add back Jeremy Hellickson for Round II? He could cost $5 million for the year leaving $27 million remaining. Now for the big splash, if the Nationals got Eovaldi for $16 million a year while parting ways with Roark would net $5 million against the budget leaving $21 million to spend. The odds of getting Eovaldi will not be good as he will have numerous suitors who are bidding him up based on that “recency bias” of his fantastic postseason with a 1.61 ERA. You will pay a large premium for Eovaldi, and the juice may not be worth the squeeze. If the Nationals go for someone like Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel, they would cost over $20 million a year and the Nats might be better off going for Miley and Hellickson and hoping for a bounceback from Roark with Joe Ross in the wings.
The Nationals are in need of a frontline catcher as the fans know and have clamored for since the acquisition of Matt Wieters and the departure of Wilson Ramos after the 2016 season. Why not go back and get Ramos? He is available! Ramos could cost around $10 million a season, and if that is the case the Nationals would have $11 million remaining to spend.
Left-handed 1st baseman/Bench bat
With the departures of Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams, the Nationals will be in need of a power lefty hitting 1st baseman. Both Murphy and Adams should work as both are free agents, and Murphy’s ability to play 2nd base adds to his value — but will either player accept a bench role? With Murphy, there should be enough at-bats with his ability to play 2nd base and 1st base. When Ryan Zimmerman was on the roster, manager Dave Martinez banished Adams to the bench which could deter him from returning. Murphy just completed his 3 year deal with the Nationals at a $12.5 million per year average. With $12 million left to spend, that should work for Murphy.
With all of these moves, the Nationals would be $15 million below the CBT threshold before player bonus incentives. One other idea for the Nationals would be to renegotiate Zimmerman’s deal like the Yankees did with Brett Gardner and the Dodgers are trying to do with Clayton Kershaw. With Zimmerman, he has an option for next year that most likely will not be picked up, but there should be enough mutual interest to keep Zimmerman at market value. Maybe they can do a new two year deal at something closer to $28 million for 3 years which would bring his AAV down from $16.67 million to $9.34 million saving the Nationals over $7 million more.
What about Bryce Harper and Keuchel/Corbin?
In the next few days, we will take these numbers forward and get more creative on how the Nationals could swing a deal for Harper and one of the two top pitchers in this free agent class.