Free agents can start signing contracts at 5:01 p.m. on Sunday. It’s fully shopping season then.
The Nationals have multiple needs, a solid chunk of financial space under the Competitive Balance Tax and an ego to reboot. The question for them will be how much they are willing to spend. It is not about whether quality options exist in free agency.
This offseason lacks the thundering star power of recent years. No Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado. The Dodgers removed Mookie Betts from consideration by paying him a 12-year, $365 million contract. J.T. Realmuto may be the preeminent free agent option as a result.
But, following a variety of recent decisions about team-held contract options, the free agent pool is filled with viable, quality players. And they are wondering who will pay them this offseason after every organization took a massive revenue hit. Two working theories about how teams may approach this: They could realize money is cheap, so to speak, this offseason because of the financial dent a 60-game season produced. Or, they could all be skittish operators, dragging out and suppressing the market.
If there is a team willing to spend now because equivalent talent could well cost more later, they would find an entire roster in free agency that looks like this:
- Catcher: J.T. Realmuto
- First base: Carlos Santana
- Second base: DJ LeMahieu
- Shortstop: Marcus Semien
- Third base: Justin Turner
- Left field: Marcell Ozuna
- Center field: George Springer
- Right field: Michael Brantley
- Right-handed bench bat: Jake Lamb
- Left-handed bench bat: Joc Pederson
- Utility: Kolten Wong
- DH: Nelson Cruz
- Trevor Bauer
- Charlie Morton
- Corey Kluber
- Robbie Ray
- Kevin Gausman
- Liam Hendriks
- Brad Hand
- Alex Colomé
- Shane Greene
- Kirby Yates
- Brandon Kintzler
- Blake Treinen
- Mark Melancon
- Darren O’Day
That will play.
Which turns us back to the Nationals. Their needs circle the field. Yan Gomes is back at catcher, Kurt Suzuki is gone. First base is wide open because Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames are all free agents. Second base belongs to Starlin Castro -- unless he is moved to third. Shortstop is defined with Trea Turner. Third base is wide open after Carter Kieboom’s struggles. An outfield position is available because the Nationals declined Adam Eaton’s option. The No. 4 spot in the rotation is a void; the fifth spot could also use a boost. The bullpen, well, yeah.
When Rendon left, the argument from ownership was they cannot pay both Rendon and Strasburg. They received $245 million each.
The flipside of this topic is that when a team loses an MVP finalist, it will almost always have to eventually spend in pursuit of similar production. The Nationals may not pay a third baseman to help return juice to their lineup. But, they will be paying somewhere else over the life of Rendon’s contract in Anaheim. They tried to avoid this in his first year Rendon was elsewhere. It failed.
Mike Rizzo perpetually operates with one-, three- and five-year plans. This winter, the widespread availability of quality players at least gives him an option to fill several gaps now. Does a multi-year contract for Bauer position them against the loss of Max Scherzer? Would bringing in LeMahieu give Kieboom and Luis García further opportunity to grow in the minor leagues? Does he want to merge Springer with Juan Soto and Victor Robles until they all can become free agents in 2025? Does he want to define the bullpen for two years via multiple signings to position next to Tanner Rainey and Will Harris?
The answer to all those questions could well be yes. However, the financial ramifications will have the final say about how much the Nationals use a deep market to remake their roster.