The Nationals had an usually large number of players become free agents off their championship roster: 12 in total, including those who either opted out of the rest of their contracts or had options declined by the club after the season.
To their credit, they’ve managed to re-signed five of those free agents so far (Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick, Yan Gomes, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Javy Guerra) while losing only two (Anthony Rendon, Gerardo Parra).
But that still leaves five more players from their World Series roster who remain unsigned free agents, still seeking employment for 2020. There’s next-to-zero chance all return to the Nats, but it’s also unlikely none comes back for another season.
Let’s run through those five players, ranked in order of most likely to least likely to be wearing a curly W cap again this year ...
Truth be told, if this was strictly a baseball decision, the Nationals probably wouldn’t be gung-ho about re-signing Zimmerman. That’s not necessarily a knock on the 35-year-old as much as it is an acknowledgement that the way this lineup is currently constructed there’s more need for a left-handed hitting first baseman than a right-handed one (with the weekend signings of Cabrera and Starlin Castro perhaps paving the way for Kendrick to primarily play first base). Pairing Kendrick with a left-handed platoon partner like Matt Adams, Mitch Moreland or Eric Thames would make a lot of baseball sense.
In reality, this isn’t strictly a baseball decision. Zimmerman is the longest-tenured player in the organization, an institution around here, and committed to playing his entire career for the Nationals and nobody else. And because he’s expressed a willingness to play at a significantly reduced salary after making $18 million last season, all signs continue to point to the two sides striking a deal at some point in the next few weeks.
That’s not a bad thing. Zimmerman remains a productive player when healthy. His 162-game average over the last six seasons includes 27 homers, 37 doubles and 101 RBIs. The problem is that he’s only actually played in an average of 92 games each of those seasons, reducing his production to 15 homers, 21 doubles and 57 RBIs.
The Nationals will take those numbers again in 2020, though, as long as they can pair Zimmerman with another part-time first baseman.
Speaking of potential left-handed, part-time first basemen ... Adams has filled that role each of the last two seasons. Why not come back for a third? He’s well-liked in the clubhouse and has enjoyed his time with the Nationals, even making the decision to re-sign in 2019 after he had been traded to the Cardinals late in 2018.
The issue is Adams’ streakiness at the plate. When he goes cold, he goes really cold for a long time, which is exactly what happened last season. On Aug. 19, he was batting .251 with 20 homers, 56 RBIs and an .831 OPS. He then closed out the regular season in a 5-for-51 slump with zero homers, zero RBIs, 24 strikeouts and three walks. And despite being active throughout the postseason, he took only four plate appearances, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout.
If Adams comes back in 2020, he’s going to have to be productive off the bench when getting sporadic playing time. The Nationals have to decide if he’s the best choice among the group of remaining unsigned lefty sluggers for that role.
Thursday night’s signing of Will Harris seemed to end any realistic chance of Hudson returning, but you never say never. But it would probably require Hudson being willing to take a lesser deal than he has been seeking so far this winter, maybe even a one-year contract. The Nats would make that move in a heartbeat (if the price was right) but you’ve got to figure some other club out there is going to make a better offer for the veteran reliever, who deserves to cash in after his career year.
Speaking of never saying never ... nobody should ever say never about this guy. Rodney, who turns 43 in March, has made it clear he wants to pitch again in 2020. And you’ve got to believe some organization out there will give him a shot, even if it’s on a minor league deal. The Nationals probably feel like they have enough bullpen depth at this point, but for all the heartrates he rose last season, Rodney still wound up playing a significant role in the Nats’ success. Who’s up for another year of the Fernando Rodney Experience?
Immensely popular and forever a part of Nationals lore for his shirtless October celebrations, Dozier just doesn’t seem to have any viable path to return to the club for another season. The return of Kendrick and Cabrera and the addition of Castro - not to mention the looming presence of top prospect Carter Kieboom - has clogged things up at second base and there’s simply no real need for the Nats to bring back Dozier. Here’s hoping he catches on somewhere else, becomes a popular figure in someone else’s clubhouse and gets more chances to dance to “Calma” this year.