Nationals

Nationals

A little offseason game which is a regular-season past time: Let's make out the lineup.

For this exercise, Josh Donaldson is the third baseman. Or Kris Bryant, despite the extreme longshot of that happening. And, someone else -- whomever from the remaining free agent third basemen. Washington's desperation for Donaldson becomes more apparent when trying to decipher a lineup without him.

A quick refresher of how the Nationals arrived at this point: They, in essence, chose Stephen Strasburg over Anthony Rendon by providing Strasburg a seven-year, $245 million contract. Anaheim gave the same one to Rendon. Managing principal owner Mark Lerner stated early in the offseason Washington could not afford both, so it was one or the other. It became Strasburg.

Which pushed them into the free agent market. Donaldson is the lone relief-providing option. Plug him in to find Rendon's departure more acceptable. His career average OPS-plus? 136. Rendon? 126. Rendon, at this point, is the superior overall player. However, Donaldson is a more-than-viable replacement.

Bryant falls in the same category. His career OPS-plus matches Donaldson at 136. He's younger and is rocketing toward free agency. So, a trade for Bryant would be costly (about $19 million per season on average across the next two seasons before he becomes a free agent). Acquiring Bryant would require cash and commodities, which is why the idea remains so unlikely for Washington.

So, a look at Donaldson-inclusive lineup (with each player's fWAR in parentheses):

Trea Turner (3.5)
Adam Eaton (L, 2.3)
Josh Donaldson (4.9)
Juan Soto (L, 4.8)
Howie Kendrick (2.9)
Ryan Zimmerman  (0.1)
Kurt Suzuki (0.6)
Victor Robles (2.5)
Pitcher

The lineup with Bryant would be the same:

Trea Turner (3.5)
Adam Eaton (L, 2.3)
Kris Bryant (4.8)
Juan Soto (L, 4.8)
Howie Kendrick (2.9)
Ryan Zimmerman (0.1)
Kurt Suzuki (0.6)
Victor Robles (2.5)
Pitcher

Then, things become complicated.

By WAR, the next-best available third baseman is...Asdrúbal Cabrera.

Cabrera was a 1.9 fWAR player last season. Rendon was a 7.0 fWAR player. It's a massive drop. Cabrera has also made just 143 starts at third base in a 13-year career. A lineup with him would require significant shuffling and prompts the key question: Who hits in the middle if there is no Donaldson-level third baseman? Here's one scenario:

Victor Robles (2.5)
Adam Eaton (L, 2.3)
Trea Turner (3.5)
Juan Soto (L, 4.8)
Howie Kendrick (2.9)
Asdrúbal Cabrera (S, 1.9)
Ryan Zimmerman  (0.1)
Kurt Suzuki (0.6)
Pitcher

 

Another variation:
Trea Turner (3.5)
Adam Eaton (L, 2.3)
Howie Kendrick (2.9)
Juan Soto (L, 4.8)
Ryan Zimmerman (0.1)
Victor Robles (2.5)
Asdrúbal Cabrera (S, 1.9)
Kurt Suzuki (0.6)
Pitcher

Immediately apparent is the waning of the lineup at the bottom, as well as the overall lack of power. Which is also reflected when installing the next option -- again by 2019 WAR -- Todd Frazier (who nearly started an on-field brawl with Eaton last season years after the two fought as teammates with the White Sox, so Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies may be more likely).

Victor Robles (2.5)
Adam Eaton (L, 2.3)
Trea Turner (3.5)
Juan Soto (L, 4.8)
Howie Kendrick (2.9)
Todd Frazier (S, 1.9)
Ryan Zimmerman  (0.1)
Kurt Suzuki (0.6)
Pitcher

Next? Pablo Sandoval.

Victor Robles (2.5)
Adam Eaton (L, 2.3)
Trea Turner (3.5)
Juan Soto (L, 4.8)
Howie Kendrick (2.9)
Ryan Zimmerman  (0.1)
Pablo Sandoval (S, 1.0)
Kurt Suzuki (0.6)
Pitcher

The reaction to a Sandoval signing to replace Rendon would not be good.

Washington could play a mix-and-match game with Zimmerman, Kendrick, Cabrera and Carter Kieboom. Cabrera can play first, second and third. Kieboom is probably destined for second base. Kendrick can play second and first. Essentially, the Nationals would be dividing 1,800 plate appearances among the four players, three of which are 34 or older. Injury risk is high. Performance risk for Kieboom is high -- at this stage.

Which makes third base in its most simplistic form a Donaldson-or-bust situation. Maybe Mike Rizzo has a surprise trade situation. Or maybe the World Series winners end up stuck at third base next season.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: