If you scrolled through yesterday’s organizational depth chart blog post, you may have noticed that the Nationals lost a significant amount of depth in a few areas when the season ended and several prominent players became free agents.
All of a sudden, that remade bullpen is looking mighty thin. As is the Nats bench, which was such a strength by season’s end.
It doesn’t have to remain that way, of course. The Nationals can (and likely will) fill those holes this winter with new signings or trade acquisitions. But they also could re-sign one or more of the free agents they lost earlier in the fall.
There are reasons to believe these are less likely to occur than the signings of new players. But let’s run through the list and consider what it would take to bring any of them back to D.C. in 2018 ...
You could argue this would be the most important player on the list the Nationals could re-sign, given his performance this season, the lack of another left-handed bat to back up a first base and the obvious concern than Ryan Zimmerman won’t be as productive (or as healthy) in 2018 as he was in 2017. But the Nationals declined to pick up their portion of Lind’s $5 million mutual option, a decision that may have surprised some but was understandable given how large of a salary that is for a guy who ideally would only get 250-300 at-bats.
Lind, meanwhile, is probably going to get offers for more playing time from other clubs, especially American League clubs that could use him as part of a DH rotation. It’s a tough loss for the Nationals, but they’re just going to have to find left-handed bench help elsewhere.
Kendrick was one of Mike Rizzo’s savviest pickups last summer, a versatile veteran who could fill in at several positions and provide a quality right-handed bat off the bench. He was a two-month rental, though, with the Nats knowing he’d be a free agent at season’s end. And in all likelihood, they wouldn’t plan to re-sign him.
But then Daniel Murphy needed microfracture knee surgery in October, a complicated procedure that could prevent the starting second baseman from making the opening day lineup. The Nationals hope Murphy will be back in time (and back to his old self) but they need to cover themselves just in case. Kendrick would certainly be a nice Plan B, but like Lind he’s probably going to get offers for guaranteed playing time elsewhere this winter. The Nats also have Wilmer Difo as a potential second baseman if Murphy isn’t ready to go.
Though most of the attention on the Nationals’ remade bullpen was focused on Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, Kintzler was no less significant an in-season addition. He primarily pitched the seventh inning but also filled in later when needed, and was quite effective. The right-hander was a rental pitcher, but there’s a strong argument for the Nats to try to bring him back.
That said, Kintzler isn’t going to be cheap. Whether you agree with the philosophy or not, his 29 saves (28 of which came with the Twins) will raise his price tag. Are the Nationals willing to pay closer prices for a seventh-inning guy? There’s an argument to be made that they should, but they might feel like they can fill that void in a more affordable fashion.
Speaking of more affordable, Albers probably can be had for less than Kintzler. But the big right-hander is still going to get a nice deal from someone after his dominant season in D.C. The Nationals got Albers on a minor league contract last winter, one that paid him $1.15 million once he made the roster. But he’ll be in line for a much bigger figure this time around, possibly even a multi-year deal.
Thing is, Albers probably is worth it. Rib the guy all you want, but did you know that over the last six seasons he sports a 2.89 ERA and 1.198 WHIP, making an average of 46 appearances per season? He’s going to turn 35 next month, so age is a concern. But this one might be worth the gamble.
When used as a matchup guy against left-handed batters, Perez was fairly effective the last two seasons with the Nationals. But the 36-year-old probably isn’t coming back, not with younger and more affordable lefties Enny Romero and Sammy Solís already on hand.
The mid-spring signing of Blanton for $4 million was hailed as a savvy move by the Nationals, but it blew up in their faces. The right-hander had a terrible season, serving up gopher balls at an alarming rate and getting buried in the bullpen as a result. The Nats won’t come calling again this winter.
Nobody could have imagined one of baseball’s most tried and true journeymen would end up making 13 starts for a first-place Nationals club (and be pretty effective for a good chunk of that time). By season’s end, though, Jackson had reverted into the form that has left him searching for a new team every winter throughout his vagabond career. The Nats love him as a person, and perhaps they’re willing to give him another shot. But it would be on a minor league deal, and not to be guaranteed the No. 5 starter’s job.
Everyone’s favorite backup catcher almost certainly played his final game for the Nationals in October. Sadly, the final image most will have of him is getting picked off first base despite beating the throw - his foot barely came off the bag, leading to a costly replay reversal - in Game 5 against the Cubs. The Nats may try to improve their catching situation this winter, but Lobaton (who may struggle to get a major league contract elsewhere) won’t be the answer.
When healthy, he proved to be quite a valuable backup infielder and left-handed bat off the bench. Trouble is, he had all kinds of problems staying healthy the last two seasons. The Nats can’t offer him any kind of guaranteed deal. If he’s willing to return on a minor league contract, maybe there’s interest. But even so, Difo’s emergence this year probably made Drew expendable.
Sorry, it’s not gonna happen. Both sides recognized this in September and October. Werth’s place in franchise lore is significant, and he’ll forever be remembered as the first big-name free agent to want to come to Washington and help transform this club into a consistent winner. But if he plays in 2018, it’ll be elsewhere.