As stated over the last couple of days, the fun is now over and it’s time to start looking ahead to 2020. Not that the Nationals wouldn’t love to just freeze time for a while and keep celebrating their championship. Unfortunately, the rest of the baseball world doesn’t care about that and has already proceeded into the hot stove league.
Thus, the Nats have no choice but to start making plans for next season. Which means we have no choice but to start looking at what they need for next season.
And what they need ... is kind of a lot. This could change significantly if they re-sign several of their now-free agents. But as things stand at this particular minute, there are a bunch of major holes on the roster, especially in the infield.
So let’s run through all of the Nationals’ positions of need (at least, as of Nov. 6):
At the moment, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick all are free agents. Those three accounted for 146 of the 162 regular season starts at first base this year. And 14 more games were started by Gerardo Parra and Asdrúbal Cabrera, also now free agents. So that’s a position that needs to be filled.
The expectation, of course, is that the Nationals and Zimmerman are going to come to agreement on a new deal, for much less than the $18 million option the team declined over the weekend. Zimmerman has openly said (many times) he has no interest in playing elsewhere and is willing to take a pay cut. So there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen, probably sooner rather than later.
But Zimmerman also has acknowledged he can’t think of himself as someone whose goal is to play in 140-plus games a year. He has to think more in terms of 100, in a best-case scenario. So the Nationals are going to have to again complement him with another first baseman capable of playing a large chunk of games. Adams held that role the last two seasons, Adam Lind the season before that. As always, a left-handed hitter is preferable, though not mandatory.
Kendrick, Cabrera and Brian Dozier combined to start 161 of 162 games at second base this season. So, yeah, that’s another big hole that has to be filled.
In this case, there could be an in-house option: Carter Kieboom. The organization’s top prospect seems to be close to big-league ready, at least from an offensive standpoint. Defense remains a question mark, and his performance in April/May this season at shortstop really underscored that. Kieboom played 41 games at second base this year for Triple-A Fresno (along with 62 at shortstop and 10 at third base) so he’s been getting more comfortable with the position.
But are the Nats willing to just hand the 22-year-old the job heading into 2020? They’ll need to have some kind of experienced alternative there. They could attempt to re-sign any of the above three veterans, though Cabrera would seem like the most logical choice. Kendrick, as great as he was for this team, turns 37 next summer and probably is looking at a DH job for an American League club. Dozier, as popular as he was in the clubhouse, struggled at the plate and was buried on the bench in September and October.
If you haven’t heard yet, Anthony Rendon is a free agent. (What? When did that happen? Why didn’t anyone mention it before?) Obviously, the Nationals’ goal is to re-sign the MVP finalist to a long-term deal. But as we saw last offseason with Bryce Harper, Mike Rizzo can’t afford to sit around for months and wait without addressing his club’s roster needs. So the general manager is going to have no choice but to at least start looking at other potential third basemen.
Thing is, the market is pretty thin. It’s Josh Donaldson, who the Braves are attempting to re-sign. And Mike Moustakas, who won’t come cheap, either. Yes, Kieboom would be a potential option here, though he has far less experience at third base than shortstop or second base in the minors.
This is why everyone has been saying all year long the Nationals are in a far different position with Rendon than they were with Harper.
The Kurt Suzuki-Yan Gomes tandem worked out well this season. They combined to hit .244 with 27 doubles, 29 homers, 106 RBIs and a .753 OPS. Suzuki returns on the second year of his deal, with a modest $6 million salary, but the Nationals declined Gomes’ $9 million club option, making him a free agent.
They could look to re-sign Gomes to a smaller deal, or they could sign another free agent from a list that includes Yasmani Grandal, Robinson Chirinos, Martín Maldonado, Stephen Vogt, Alex Avila and Jason Castro. Or they could take a chance on young Raudy Read, though that seems like a gamble given Suzuki’s advanced age and injury history.
This really only becomes a need if Stephen Strasburg, who opted out of the remainder of his contract over the weekend, bolts town and signs somewhere else. The strong suspicion here is that does not happen and the World Series MVP remains a National for many more years to come. If that proves true, the Nationals are set, with Strasburg re-joining Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez to re-form the Big Four, with Austin Voth, Joe Ross and Erick Fedde all under club control as well.
But if Strasburg surprises everyone and departs, the Nationals almost certainly would need to look for a big-name replacement.
Is there ever an offseason where the bullpen isn’t a priority? No. And it once again is this offseason. The Nationals aren’t working with a bare cupboard, though. Sean Doolittle’s $6.5 million option was picked up, so he’s back. So are Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Javy Guerra, Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland.
The two free agents are Daniel Hudson and Fernando Rodney. There will be motivation to re-sign Hudson, but there also should be caution about bringing back after he took on such a heavy workload this fall. Relievers are volatile year to year, and as great as he was in 2019, Hudson does not have a consistent track record over his career. Rodney, meanwhile, will be 43, though certainly insisting he can continue to pitch himself into (and out of) bases-loaded jams.