Tee times were booked well in advance at Torrey Pines and some other golf venues ahead of the Winter Meetings that officially kick-off on December 8th in San Diego at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront: , but many executives will slip in a few days early for this one. This will be an easy one for super agent Scott Boras who lives just up the beach in Newport outside of Los Angeles, and he will be in the zone on this one especially if Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Mike Moustakas are all unsigned at that point as he is the agent to all four of them. And Boras is also the agent for Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, and Nicholas Castellanos and others. If rumors are correct about J.D. Martinez staying with the Red Sox, then Boras only controls seven of the top ten free agents this winter. If Marcell Ozuna did not defect to a new agent, Boras might have had a monopoly on the top-12 free sans Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Yasmani Grandal, and Josh Donaldson.
Get ready for some new Borasisms like “Playoffville” which Eric Hosmer has yet to deliver via FedEx to San Diego which also added Manny Machado, and rumors are swirling that they could make a run at Strasburg who grew up in San Diego.
“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection,” Scott Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. And certainly they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there is less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes. The rooms in their houses are less so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players when you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville.”
“Casper Finance . . . Where’s the Ghost? Where’s the money?,” Boras once said.
“People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak,” Scott Boras said.
Clearly Boras has a lot of steak and a whole lot of bull. He plays one of the best hands of liar’s poker and cavaet emptor because there are no refunds after purchase. While the Max Scherzer deal worked out for the Nationals, we can debate the Jayson Werth deal, but few of his other free agent deals with the Nats paid-off like Rafael Soriano, Matt Wieters, Stephen Drew, Edwin Jackson (first time), Jeremy Hellickson (second time), Oliver Perez and others. Maybe the biggest free agent deals are the ones the Nats did not get like Bryce Harper and Prince Fielder who the Nats were tied to until the end.
The Nats have some major holes to fill now that 11 of their 25 players from their World Series roster are now free agents: 3B Anthony Rendon, 2B Howie Kendrick, 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Brian Dozier, 1B Ryan Zimmerman (option declined), 1B Matt Adams (option declined), C Yan Gomes (option declined), OF Gerardo Parra, RHP Stephen Strasburg (opted-out), RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Fernando Rodney. Plus keep in mind that the 2020 active roster increases from 25 players to a total of 26 players. The Nats only exercised options for Sean Doolittle and Adam Eaton.
Only the outfield and shortstop is set for 2020 based on the roster for today with Eaton, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Trea Turner filling those four spots. General manager Mike Rizzo has two major holes to fill for Strasburg and Rendon, and certainly he can fill those spots with Strasburg and Rendon if each player wants to come back.
Let’s go position by position where the holes exist:
STARTING ROTATION: These Washington Nationals teams are built on the starting rotation and the dividends of that paid-off handsomely in this year’s World Series victory as no team could fully matchup. The Nationals can fill-in the #5 spot with Joe Ross, Austin Voth or Erick Fedde and put the two runner-ups in the bullpen, but who takes the #2 spot vacated by Strasburg to fin in the middle of Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez? Right now they are the Big Three, but Strasburg showed that he could move ahead of the aging Scherzer as the Nats #1 starter. If Strasburg did depart, Zack Wheeler is the type of player who the Nats could look to and certainly there will be some other names available that we will look at in more depth.
BULLPEN: With the new 26-player roster, the Nationals will certainly carry eight relievers. How great did that rental of Daniel Hudson look for Kyle Johnston in that deadline trade? Can the Nats figure out a way to get Huddy back? With Doolittle’s option picked up, the Nationals are possibly in need of only one or two arms as they control a whole lot of relievers and a few they could cut ties with like Hunter Strickland and Javy Guerra who are both arbitration eligible. In addition they will have some young starters to who do not make the rotation plus Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, and Roenis Elías. In addition there is always the oft-injured Koda Glover. If the Nats can re-sign Huddy plus another lefty reliever they look to be set.
FIRST BASE: For the first time ever, Ryan Zimmerman is not with the Washington Nationals. Okay, before he was drafted in 2005 he was not a Nationals for a few months, but every indication is that Zim will return on a market rate deal. He just got a check for $2 million to say goodbye, and his market value is worth about $4.5 million. There is also Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick who are free agents, and Asdrubal Cabrera and Gerardo Parra also played some first base this season. Surely with the expanded roster in 2020 there are enough names to pick from that list to play some alternating first base and fill some bench roles. There is no reason to spend big there.
SECOND BASE: Just like first base, the Nationals can fill second base from the departed players like Kendrick and Cabrera, but also look to Carter Kieboom to add some youth and athleticism to the mix. He is now the organization’s top position prospect, and shortstop at the Major League level seemed to overwhelm him at times. Second base would seem to be a better fit, and this would save some much-needed to cash to go with this prospect if he earns it in Spring Training.
THIRD BASE: To nobody’s surprise, Rendon chose free agency even after it was rumored he was offered a deal in the $215 million range. While Kieboom has played some third base, the thought is to keep him at second base and look to top free agents Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas who both are in the top-12 free agents. They could be had on short-term deals — but their departing teams also want to retain them. Donaldson stayed healthy and productive all season for the Braves and Moose was again solid for the Brewers. Health is the biggest issue which is another reason why Cabrera and Kendrick on the bench makes sense since both can also play third base with that positional flexibility.
CATCHER: While every day was not perfect with the Kurt Suzuki–Yan Gomes catching tandem, it was still the best the Nats have ever had. The offensive production was strong as they combined for an outstanding 106 RBIs just in the regular season and some huge run scoring plays in the postseason. The issue is more to Suzuki’s durability as the grind got to him and he had elbow soreness, and other ailments. Suzuki ranked #114 of all catchers on defense in Baseball Prospectus and Gomes was about league average. While Suzuki will return on the final year of his two-year deal, the Nats declined Gomes’ $9 million club option because he just is not worth that much. In doing so, they paid Gomes $1 million as a buyout. With Suzuki’s durability at catcher, the Nats need a #1 catcher and certainly you can go expensive for Yasmani Grandal or spend under $7.5 million and get some good names to handle the pitching staff. There are reasons to stay short-term if Rizzo is still interested in catcher J.T. Realmuto‘s who will be in free agency after next season. Other potential free agents at catcher right now are Robinson Chirinos, Martin Maldonado, Alex Avila and Jason Castro.
BENCH: If Ryan Zimmerman is back at first base and Carter Kieboom at second base, the bench should be five players with the backup catcher and hopefully reuniting with Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera and Gerardo Parra. That is just four names, and the fifth name could come from Andrew Stevenson who has turned into a fine pinch-hitter. Every time you think he can’t do it again, he delivered, and he showed in the Wild Card game that he can pinch-run too. At the league minimum, he would fill the spot well and hopefully he could replicate something close to his 2019 PH slash line at .421/.560/.579/1.139. Yes, that was in a 25 plate appearances ample size. His overall numbers with a .367 BA and .953 OPS were darn good too.
This is what the Nats look like today and going forward there will be many moves that Rizzo and his staff will make. There always is the chance that Rizzo could make a trade that you never saw coming. In the coming weeks, we will look at each of the needs, and talk about fits for this team.