For all the star power and success within their everyday lineup and starting rotation, the Nationals know they would not have won 97 games and run away with a division title last season if not for the performance of their bench.
When injuries knocked Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor out for a minimum of five weeks apiece, how did the Nationals manage not only to stay afloat but continue to thrive? Thanks to the fill-in work of Adam Lind, Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin.
Those four players took a combined 1,122 plate appearances for the Nats and hit a collective .278 with a .332 on-base percentage, .460 slugging percentage and .792 OPS. You know which major leaguer had a .792 OPS last season? Wil Myers. Who had a .791 OPS? Robinson Canó.
That’s the kind of production the Nationals got from their top four bench players. And thanks to Monday’s re-signing of Kendrick to a two-year, $7 million contract, the Nats positioned themselves to receive some very similar production from their bench this year.
Kendrick will join Difo and Goodwin in returning to form the core of the Nationals’ 2018 bench. And though they chose not to bring back Lind, they wound up signing a near carbon copy of the big lefty slugger in Matt Adams.
Adams. Kendrick. Difo. Goodwin. Add presumed No. 2 catcher Pedro Severino to that list, and you can pretty much pencil in the Nationals’ entire opening day bench right now. How many clubs can claim to have their bench set on Feb. 16, let alone Jan. 16?
Kendrick, in particular, was a key re-sign by general manager Mike Rizzo. Not that the Nationals couldn’t have replaced him, but they would have been hard-pressed to replace him with only one player.
Kendrick, as we saw following his July acquisition from the Phillies, is not only a professional right-handed batter off the bench. He’s also a solid everyday second baseman or left fielder, if needed. And he can play right field, first base or even third base in a pinch. That’s a lot of different skills, and there aren’t many others who can check off all those boxes.
And the Nationals might need Kendrick to check off a lot of those boxes in 2018. With Daniel Murphy still rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery in October, the club might need a fill-in second baseman to open the season. The same could be said of left field, if Eaton needs some more time to fully return from a torn ACL.
At worst, the Nats got themselves a very good right-handed pinch-hitter and occasional starter at multiple positions - and at a very affordable price. At best, they got themselves a bench player who could comfortably take 500 plate appearances and hit .290 or better as a replacement starter at either second base or left field.
There’s still plenty of offseason to go. And they still have a few other areas of need, most them on the pitching front. But the Nationals have done a nice job so far this winter of ensuring that the vast majority of a roster that won 97 games in 2017 is back in the fold for 2018.