The final countdown to spring training has arrived, so we’re spending the final days of the offseason counting down the Nationals’ top storylines of the spring. We continue today with the possibility of free agent signings even after camp has begun ...
It’s not unusual for teams to sign players during spring training. It happens every year, with a handful of veterans still available and needs arising as a result of injuries or other camp developments. But baseball has never opened a spring in a situation quite like this, with roughly 100 free agents still unsigned, including a bunch of prominent players who in years past would have been signed to major contracts in December or January but now still find themselves unemployed in mid-February.
How might this impact the Nationals? Well, as has been the case all winter, they don’t especially feel pressured to make any more additions. They addressed their obvious needs during the offseason, re-signing Howie Kendrick and Brandon Kintzler and adding Matt Adams to replace Adam Lind.
But, as has also been the case all winter, they’re never going to say never to anything, especially if there’s a bargain to be had.
General manager Mike Rizzo has maintained throughout that he hasn’t been in the market for starting pitching, believing A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde and Joe Ross (once he returns this summer from Tommy John surgery) can adequately fill the final spot in the team’s rotation.
But what if Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb is still available come March 1, and one of them is willing to lower his asking price down to a modest, short-term deal that fits within the Nationals’ budget? Would they feel compelled to pounce at that point?
A veteran starter would be the most significant piece the Nats could add during camp, but another reliever or two would be the more likely acquisition. Remember, these guys signed Joe Blanton on March 2 last spring. That deal didn’t work out, but there are countless experienced relievers still available this spring that could help them, including Greg Holland, Tony Watson and old pals Tyler Clippard and Oliver Pérez.
Again, the Nationals won’t feel obligated to make any moves. They could assemble a 25-man roster capable of winning the division right now if they wanted to.
But, with so many quality players still unemployed at the end of the strangest Hot Stove League the baseball world has experienced in a long time, if the price is right, the Nats might just find themselves a real bargain for a player who could help make a difference in 2018.