The Nationals player purge continued Wednesday when players were eligible to become free agents.
The organization declined options on Adam Eaton, Aníbal Sánchez, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames, as expected.
Eaton’s departure comes after a poor performance in 2020 to cap his injury-filled four years in Washington. Eaton played one full year -- 2019 -- and looked like the offensive player the Nationals expected when they acquired him in an expansive trade which included now-All-Star pitcher Lucas Giolito. Eaton’s outfield defense was never the same following an ACL tear in his left knee in late April of 2017. He did put together a strong World Series (.993 OPS) to help the Nationals beat the Houston Astros in 2019 for the organization’s first title.
Without Eaton, the Nationals will be in search of a new starting corner outfielder and have the $10.5 million previously owed to him to help shop with (after a $1.5 million buyout). Juan Soto played left field exclusively until the end of the 2020 season when he switched to right field. Victor Robles will remain in center field. Andrew Stevenson is in line to become the team’s fourth outfielder.
Sánchez leaves following a continued resurrection of his career in 2019 when the Nationals signed him as a free agent. He helped stabilize the back end of their rotation on the way to the playoffs his first season. He then struggled in 2020, often citing a lack of fans in the stadium as an influence. Turning down Sánchez’s $12 million option -- which would have made him the fourth-highest paid player on the team -- puts the Nationals in a position to hunt for another starter. Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Auston Voth are expected to once again compete for the fifth starter spot.
Thames was never able to find a groove in 2020. He was acquired to be the left-handed portion of a first base platoon as well as to pinch-hit against right-handed pitchers. He had a poor year at the plate (career-worst .617 OPS) and in the field, where he memorably dropped a routine throw to first, then lamented playing while under all the environmental restrictions in place so Major League Baseball could put together a 60-game season. The Nationals will invest what would have been a $4 million option elsewhere.
Kendrick moves on as a postseason hero and respected clubhouse presence after four years in the organization. He was unsure at the end of 2020 if he would retire or try to play one more season. Becoming a free agent, then signing elsewhere, appeared an unlikely scenario.
Any of these players can re-sign a new deal with the Nationals.
Free agents can start signing with teams on Sunday.