There have been rumors the last few days that the Nats are going to be aggressive this offseason. And they should be, but what I’m wondering is what exactly that means. Sure, they need to fill some holes, and signing free agents to do that, even if that means large, long term deals, is probably a good idea. Without a closer, another outfielder, and a starting catcher, you start to wonder what they are headed.
But outside of free agency, they have a chance to get better by trading away some top prospects. And I’m not talking about top 10 guy, I’m talking about their top 3 – the guys in the top 100 of all prospects – Lucas Giolito, Victor Robles and Reynaldo Lopez. So the question is, to get this team as close to the best it can be, should they be willing to part with them?
There are good reasons to think absolutely they should, and some good reasons to be cautious. I laid them out below:
Go All Out
This team, as we saw in 2015, is really good. They could be great, but they won’t do it by sitting still. Free agent signings are certainly part of the equation, but have you look at who is available out there? Even if they get everyone they want, they might still have a hole or two.
I, along with many others, have argued that Trea Turner should move to shortstop, and Danny Espinosa‘s replacement should be in the outfield. They should pursue a big bat, middle of the lineup hitter in the outfield to really round out the lineup (I listed a few here), and have to be willing to trade away top talent to do so. With only one season left on Jayson Werth‘s contract, they can also get a corner outfielder.
Bryce Harper can play CF, even if it’s not every game, and then move back to RF in 2019. They have a couple of fourth outfielders who can play CF, to save some wear and tear on Harper’s body, and they could end up with one of the best lineups in baseball.
They also have a solid pitching staff, but no real closer. Getting a closer will be essential for their success, because if they move Shawn Kelley to that role, suddenly they open up spots further down the bullpen. If they’re aggressive enough, they can get two guys and have as formidable bullpen as anyone in the league.
They might even go after another starter – giving them a rotation that, if healthy, could have the match up advantage against anyone in any spot, 1 through 5. Gio Gonzalez is not what he once was, and Joe Ross, while potentially great, has yet to show he can even be a reliable back of the rotation starter. A move there would let them match their biggest division rival’s biggest strength, and could put them over the top for another division title.
In 2015, people talked about the “window” for this team, with the impending departures of Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, and others. As I said at the end of that season, there was no roster-related window for this team. But there was, and is, a division-related window.
The Phillies and the Braves are going to be good, and it will happen soon. I’m not ready to buy then in 2017, but they could be good in 2018. The Nats division is going to be a royal rumble soon, and then they won’t have as easy of a path as they will in 2017 – one true contender in the Mets and lots of potential wins against their other division rivals.
Aggressive without going crazy
Look, the Nats have a good team already, as shown above. But let’s be honest. Do we really know what we are going to get from Ryan Zimmerman? If you think you know what we’re getting from him, I’m guessing you fall on the side of “below replacement level”. And no matter how aggressive they get, I don’t see the ownership allowing his salary to be wasted, so he’s probably playing first base for them.
What about Stephen Strasburg? Is he going to be healthy enough to pitch in the playoffs? Or in enough of the season to get them to the playoffs? And for that matter, is Werth going to hit like he did after May? Or will it be early season Werth?
Heck, even Harper is a question mark. Sure, we all THINK he was hurt and that’s why his 2016 was so poor. But with all the injury denials, what if he really wasn’t hurt, and he just isn’t the guy he was in 2015?
And looking around the league, what catcher are they really going to get in order to make a run?
There are just too many question marks to think that trading away all of the prospects for really good players will be enough to put them over the hump. Their every-other-year playoff appearances perfectly illustrates how up and down this team can be.
Even with a good haul this offseason, they shouldn’t mortgage the future on an inherently risky team. Instead, they should fill the holes with good players through free agency, and sure, be aggressive there. Signing a guy like Dexter Fowler to a 5 year deal and giving Mark Melancon a ton of money would be aggressive, but it wouldn’t be AGGRESSIVE.
If you’re the Nats, you throw your financial weight around, and patch some holes. But don’t be trading for Chris Sale or Zack Grienke to make the perfect rotation when you’ve already got a really good pitching staff.
This team will lose some players over the next few years, but they have serious top-level talent ready to emerge as well. There is no reason to toss them out in order to chase a championship they won’t get unless a million and one things go right.
When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It
So, what should they do? Ok, admittedly, both arguments were sort of strawmen. I don’t see the Nats trading away everybody in their farm system to win this year. And sure if all of those prospects work out, man, this team has a real opportunity to remain very relevant.
But chances are, the prospects won’t all work out, and, no matter what the Nats do, they won’t be favorites to win the World Series going in to the season.
The Nats have a formidable lineup and a strong pitching staff. They already have team in place that should be good enough to make the playoffs. They can do alot on the free agent market and should be really aggressive there.
Looking at the two scenarios, though, I’m inclined to think they should be more aggressive, not less this offseason. Even though the less aggressive scenario includes spending aggressively, I just don’t think it will be enough for them.
So they should be willing to trade one of those guys to make themselves better. I don’t think they need to part with all of them, and I’m not convinced that going down the path of Sale or Grienke really helps them get better in the playoffs, not when they could be shoring up the lineup. But yes, be aggressive.
The Nats need to spend this offseason to make themselves better, or at best they are a potential playoff team without a real shot other than the lucky bounces of the playoffs to make it far. But they have an opportunity to make themselves real contenders, if they aren’t shy about holding on to their guys. Now is the time to do it, despite all of their question marks, they might not get a better chance for a long time.