For all the attention lavished upon Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and their long, slow quest to sign with somebody before the start of spring training, there are a ton of other free agents still unemployed as we reach late January.
And that includes a whole bunch of guys who played for the Nationals in 2018.
Let’s look at those still-unsigned free agents and figure out what it might take to get them in a uniform before pitchers and catchers report ...
Wieters had to know he was going to be facing a long winter, trying to find a new club after two disappointing seasons with the Nats. He turns 33 in May and he has totaled only 3.6 WAR over the last five seasons. That said, pitchers do like working with him. And he should be affordable at this point, probably looking at a one-year deal for something like $3 million or $4 million. If there’s a team out there that could use a veteran catcher to share the job with a younger guy, Wieters still has some value.
Reynolds knows all about waiting for a contract. Despite a 30-homer, 97-RBI showing for the Rockies in 2017, he only got a minor league deal from the Nationals, and not until April 17. It turned out to be a great deal for the Nationals, who called Reynolds up three weeks later when Ryan Zimmerman got hurt and kept him on the roster the rest of the way. Reynolds responded with 13 homers, 40 RBIs and an .803 OPS in 235 plate appearances. He’ll probably have to wait again before getting a deal this year, but teams in need of a right-handed bench bat and backup first baseman would be wise to look at him.
Boy, did Gonzalez pick the wrong winter to hit free agency. Had he been available last winter, coming off one of the best seasons of his career, he would’ve been looking at a long-term deal for good money. Instead he’s been an afterthought in this market, which is too bad. It’s been said many times before, but Gio has been one of the most reliable lefties in the sport for a long time. He has made at least 31 starts in eight of the last nine seasons, going 120-86 with a 3.49 ERA. Who wouldn’t want a starter like that in their rotation? He’ll probably have to settle for a short-term deal, but someone might end up with a real bargain here.
The Nationals took a low-risk flyer on Hellickson last spring, and it paid off. He posted a 3.45 ERA and microscopic 1.073 WHIP in 19 starts, used effectively by Davey Martinez, who rarely let him face a lineup three times in one outing. The only downside to Hellickson’s season were two fluke injuries (a strained hamstring and a bruised wrist) that landed him on the disabled list. That shouldn’t scare potential suitors off, though. Would the Nats bring him back to be their No. 5 starter again? They might still be aiming higher, but if none of those pursuits come to fruition, they might well be tempted to come back here again.
Asked last spring about his intentions beyond 2018, Madson insisted he planned to continue pitching. And given his late-career resurrection (2.55 ERA, 1.021 WHIP from 2015-17) that seemed like a given. But very little went right for the reliever last season, from his erratic performances to minor injuries to his disastrous postseason with the Dodgers. Now he’s a 38-year-old whose most recent image in everyone’s mind is not a positive one. Here’s hoping Madson gets another chance. But it’s certainly possible he won’t.
Holland was a late signing with the Cardinals last spring, then was awful when he pitched for them. He wound up getting released, only to right his ship with the Nationals over the final two months. The guy who posted an 0.84 ERA and 0.891 WHIP in 24 games for the Nats sure looked like someone who had plenty left in the tank. Holland hasn’t caught on with anyone yet, but he’d be a nice pickup for someone to serve as a setup man and backup closer, wouldn’t he?
What a strange year it was for Kelley. His longstanding issues serving up home runs made it feel like he was on the verge of another implosion each time he took the mound, but he wound up being very effective (3.34 ERA, 0.959 WHIP in 35 games). But then he slammed his glove to the ground after giving up a homer in a blowout win on July 31, and the next day he was gone and declared by Mike Rizzo to be “in the way.” Kelley wound up in Oakland, where he continued to pitch well. By season’s end, he had a 2.94 ERA in 54 games. He’ll turn 35 in April, but he should still be a contributor to someone’s bullpen in 2019.