The Washington Nationals have been relatively quiet to start the 2019-20 offseason. After being the most active team on the market last winter, they’ve mostly stood pat for the first month of the offseason outside of re-signing catcher Yan Gomes to a two-year deal.
Mike Rizzo and Co. don’t figure to stay idle for too long, but they will be forced to make several roster decisions by Monday. The MLB non-tender deadline is 8 p.m. that night, when all 30 teams must decide whether they’re going to retain the players on their 40-man rosters who have fewer than six years of service time.
For the Nationals, some of those choices are going to be easy. There isn’t any scenario where players such as Juan Soto, Victor Robles or Trea Turner are cut loose. But not everyone on the team is a prized young outfielder or speedy leadoff hitter. Some decisions will come down to money, while others may just be about whether there’s enough room to keep them.
Here are five players who the Nationals could choose to non-tender.
In what will be his third year of arbitration, Michael Taylor is projected to earn a salary in the neighborhood of $3.25 million for the 2020 season. The Nationals are weighing the costs and benefits of retaining top free agents Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, which could mean the team will opt to cut spending elsewhere.
Taylor played in just 53 games for the Nationals last season due to a June demotion to AA-Harrisburg that kept him in the minors until rosters expanded in September. He filled in admirably for Victor Robles at center field during the playoffs but has a well-documented history of struggling at the plate.
$3.25 million would be a steep price for a defensive-first outfielder and pinch runner, making him an unfortunate candidate to be let go in favor of a cheaper option in free agency. However, if the Nationals do release him, it may be a signal that they’re going to be willing to spend big this offseason.
The Nationals acquired Hunter Strickland at last season’s trade deadline with hopes of making him a key contributor at the back end of their bullpen. He got off to a great start, allowing just one run over his first 10 appearances with the team. But Strickland struggled from there and posted a 9.00 ERA with five home runs, six walks and seven strikeouts in his final 14 games of the year.
Strickland then made just two appearances in the playoffs and served up two runs each time. That forced the Nationals to keep him off the roster for the both the NLCS and World Series. Now, Strickland is projected to make just south of $2 million in 2020 amid a crowded group of relievers competing for roster spots.
Washington still has Strickland under contract through 2021 but he’s out of options, so the Nationals would have to place him on waivers before being able to send him down to the minors. With Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Roenis Elías, Javy Guerra, Koda Glover and Aaron Barrett all in the running for a spot on the 25-man roster—and offseason additions yet to be made—things could be a bit too crowded for Strickland to stay in D.C.
Speaking of the bullpen, Guerra is another reliever who could get the ax. Like Strickland, Guerra is out of options and arbitration eligible in 2020 (projected to make $1.3 million). The Nationals already released him once, making him a casualty of their busy trade deadline before bringing him back on a minors deal.
The Nationals only have 32 players on their 40-man roster ahead of Monday’s deadline, so they could very well roll the dice by keeping all their relievers now and letting one or two if they're forced to make roster cuts later. But that would cost them, as all players’ contracts become guaranteed after the deadline.
Guerra isn’t the most expensive player among the Nationals’ relief corps (Elías, like Strickland, is projected to make $1.9 million), but Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Joe Ross are all out of options as well and appear to be better candidates for long-relief roles if they don’t make the Opening Day rotation.
Infield may be the Nationals’ biggest question mark of the winter, as only Turner is entrenched in a starting position as the calendar flips to December. Adrián Sanchez has shown the flexibility to play defensively all over the diamond, but that flexibility may end up costing him.
For the past three years, Sanchez has been an important fill-in player for when injuries arise but was always sent back down to the minors once the starters got healthy. Now, both he and Wilmer Difo—who’s filled a similar role—are both out of options. The Nationals are expected to sign starters at both second and third base (or slot top prospect Carter Kieboom into a starting role), likely only leaving room for one of the two between Sanchez and Difo.
Difo has been a slight step up from Sanchez offensively, making him the better bet to remain on the roster if one of them must be released. But at 29 years old, Sanchez may not find many suitors for his .612 OPS at the MLB level. The Nationals could bring him back on a minor-league deal if there’s mutual interest in a return.
The Gomes signing shored up the Nationals’ catcher situation, but it also created an interesting dilemma with Raudy Read. Despite only having 14 games in the majors to his name, Read is another player out of options on Washington’s 40-man.
He’s 26 years old, putting him on the elder side of most prospects breaking into the majors. After coming up for a September cup of coffee in 2017, Read looked like a future big leaguer until he was suspended 80 games for PEDs in February the following year. He made his way back to the MLB for six games this season and was a candidate to back up Kurt Suzuki behind the plate next year if the Nationals didn’t make any upgrades at catcher.
One factor that could make the Nationals consider keeping him is the fact that active rosters are expanding to 26 in 2020. If Washington doesn’t use that extra spot on a pitcher, it could opt to carry three catchers to make whoever’s sitting between Suzuki and Gomes available to pinch hit. But the Nationals also have catching prospect Tres Barrera on their 40-man, which could make Read expendable either way.
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