The Nationals are officially in the market for a new corner outfielder after Adam Eaton signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Chicago White Sox, multiple reports confirmed Tuesday. Washington signaled it was ready to move on by declining Eaton’s $10.5 million team option earlier this offseason, but Eaton’s signing put a formal end to his time in D.C.
It’s been a slow start to the offseason for the Nationals, who have yet to address a litany of roster holes that include a corner outfield spot, first base, the back end of the rotation and a set-up man in the bullpen. Given the Nationals reportedly plan to “spread the money around” rather than go all in one free agent, it appears unlikely that they will pivot to a player such as George Springer or Marcell Ozuna to replace Eaton in the outfield.
So who will be playing alongside Juan Soto and Victor Robles in the outfield next season? Here are three solutions in free agency that could be a fit for the Nationals.
He may be heading into his age-34 season, but Michael Brantley has put earlier injury woes behind him to churn out three straight productive years. Since the start of the 2018 season, Brantley’s on-base percentage is .368 — 21st in the majors (min. 300 games) and five percentage points higher than his former teammate Springer.
Brantley won’t hit as many homers as Springer, but he has gap-to-gap power that makes him a doubles machine. The left-handed hitter could slot in Eaton’s No. 2 spot in the batting order to bridge the gap between Trea Turner and Soto. While he’s played most of his career in left field, the Nationals tested Soto out in right late last year in case they needed to move him across the outfield.
Another left-handed slugger, Eddie Rosario was non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins last week after clearing waivers. He doesn’t draw many walks and his OBP suffers as a result, but Rosario would bring a big bat (96 home runs since 2017) to a Washington offense severely lacking in that department.
By adding Rosario, the Nationals would have a hitter capable of protecting Juan Soto in the lineup. Soto walked on a career-high 20.9 percent of his plate appearances last season, a trend indicative of both his excellent plate discipline and opponents pitching around him. Rosario, who’s received down-ballot AL MVP votes each of the last two years, would be capable of punishing pitchers who decide to face him instead of Soto.
Joc Pederson/Hunter Renfroe
OK, this is technically cheating. But a platoon of Joc Pederson and Hunter Renfroe would allow the Nationals to make left field an offensive force no matter who they’re facing on the mound. Pederson has an .849 career OPS against righties while Renfroe boasts a .912 OPS when facing left-handers. Both can play left field, while Pederson could also slide into the rotation at first base as well.
This would again give the Nationals someone to hit behind Soto, with the added bonus of giving them a better platoon advantage against lefties than Brantley or Rosario would. Both Pederson and Renfroe are under 30, too, which would give them plenty of upside to have career years for Washington in 2021.