Mike Rizzo pointed to the performance gap between the young and old players when this woebegone season closed. The Nationals younger players seemed to find a way through pandemic baseball. The older players never found a groove. Whether empty stands, age, or the general malaise of 2020 gone wrong influenced them, it was hard to say.
But, Rizzo thought the difference was clear. Subsequently, he mentioned an ambition for the roster to become younger this offseason. So, the first thing he did was sign...a 33-year-old?
The Nationals struck a one-year deal with Josh Harrison on Thursday. He is 33 years old. Harrison will turn 34 in the middle of next season (July 8). He is not part of getting younger. At least not by date of birth.
For the Nationals, there are two ways to go about bringing a different spirit into the clubhouse: one is to sign high-energy people and players like Harrison. The second is to turn back the roster clock via calendar-based decisions.
At 9 a.m. the day after the World Series ends, a flood of Nationals players will become free agents:
Asdrúbal Cabrera, 34 (turns 35 on Nov. 13). Adam Eaton, 31 (turns 32 on Dec. 6) Sean Doolittle, 34 Aníbal Sánchez, 36 (turns 37 on Feb. 27, 2021) Kurt Suzuki, 37 Brock Holt, 32
Average age of that group: 34.
Ryan Zimmerman, 36, is also a free agent.
Eric Thames, 33, has a mutual option with the team. He is likely to become a free agent.
Howie Kendrick, 37, and will turn 38 on July 12 of next year, also has a mutual option with the team. His future status is unclear.
So, bringing back Harrison -- and even Zimmerman and/or Kendrick -- does not undermine the Nationals’ pursuit to become a younger roster overall.
If Luis García, 20, is on the active roster next year and Cabrera, for instance, is not, the Nationals shave 14 years in age with one swap. Tres Barrera has a chance to be the backup catcher. He’s 26. That’s an 11-year cut back from Suzuki. Free agent pitcher Kevin Gausman, who could be a value play as the fourth starter, is eight years younger than Sánchez. Free agent Joc Pederson is 28 years old. He could be a left-handed platoon option at first instead of the 33-year-old Thames.
And, the Nationals will surely be looking for more juice like that displayed by Harrison. He fits the “clubhouse guy” mold, but also can play. They appeared flat through 2020, wading through a combination of World Series hangover and coronavirus protocol monotony. Rizzo thinks a revamped roster will help reboot them in 2021. Harrison is a step toward that, no matter his age.