The Nationals have several spots to fill, a solid chunk of money to possibly do it with and lots of quality options to choose from.
The free agent list this year is not about superstar names. Rather, it’s about depth and quality. Even the second tier of free agents holds value, especially if their contracts are brief and costs suppressed by a mediocre market.
All week, we’re going to take a look at individuals who could fit in different places for the Nationals. Here’s a look at former Houston outfielder Michael Brantley.
What he does well: Makes contact. Brantley has an astonishing 96 percent contact rate when he swings at pitches inside the strike zone. That’s not a one-year sample. It is for his 12-year career. Even when swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, Brantley’s career contact rate is 80.6 percent. This explains why his strikeouts totals are so low in an era of monumental strikeouts. The most Brantley has struck out in a season with 596 or more plate appearances is 67 times. In 2015, Brantley had 60 extra-base hits, 60 walks and 51 strikeouts.
Where he fits with the Nationals: The Nationals need an outfielder after Adam Eaton’s option was not picked up by the team. They also need more contact in their lineup. Brantley fits both requirements, as well as replaces a left-handed bat with a left-handed bat.
Brantley is entering his age-34 season. His status, like so many players, can be partly tied to whether the National League will again have a designated hitter. As a left-handed thrower, he could be a natural fit at first base, though he has been an outfielder throughout his career.
If, and it’s a large if like so much of free agency projecting, the Nationals acquire a leadoff hitter (such as DJ LeMahieu) and Brantley, then their top four could suddenly be Leadoff Hitter X, Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Brantley. Then, things are quickly looking up. Starlin Castro is bumped to fifth. Victor Robles hits eighth. Catcher (mostly Yan Gomes) and the first base platoon handle the other two spots in a stretched out lineup.
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