Nationals

Why the Nats should go after George Springer in free agency

Nationals

There is a power outage at Nationals Park and this one wasn't caused by Taylor Swift.

Okay, maybe that 2015 blackout wasn't actually her fault. But we shouldn't let that get in the way of a good metaphor to describe what is arguably the Nats' biggest weakness entering the offseason. They desperately need to add power to their lineup.

One guy who would help in a major way is George Springer, the Houston Astros outfielder who is set to be one of the top free agents on the market. Many 2021 MLB free agent rankings have him in the top-five among available players, often just behind catcher J.T. Realmuto and pitcher Trevor Bauer.

Signing a top position player free agent has not been the Nationals' way in recent years, at least not since they gave Jayson Werth a seven-year deal back in 2010. They have been more known for paying pitchers and letting their high-priced position players walk.

But that practice has seemingly caught up to them after consecutive offseasons where Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon departed in free agency. This past season, the Nats ranked 21st in the majors in home runs, which have become an increasingly important indicator of success in an era where more balls are leaving the park than ever before.

Just look at the top-six teams in home runs this season: the Dodgers, Braves, White Sox, Padres, Yankees and Twins. All six finished among the best 11 records in baseball and the top two home run-hitting clubs, the Dodgers and Braves, are currently playing in the NLCS.

 

The Nationals could use a boost to their lineup and specifically in the outfield. Victor Robles, though exceptionally good on defense, saw his OPS plummet to .608. Adam Eaton held a .669 OPS and has a $1.5 million buyout option in his contract. The Nats could save $9 million by getting rid of him.

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Even with Juan Soto, who is arguably the best hitter in the game, the Nats need help in their outfield. He also needs some protection in the lineup, as this season he led the majors in intentional walks (12), with 50 percent more than the next guy (Harper, 8).

Springer could provide help both with defensive versatility - he can play center or right field - and a big bat. In 2019, Springer clubbed 39 home runs. This past season, he hit 14 bombs in just 51 games, which is a 45-homer pace for a full, 162-game season.

Springer has slugged over .500 in three of the past four seasons. Only Soto and Trea Turner held slugging percentages above .450 for the Nats in 2020. 

Springer is 31 years old, but perhaps that could work in the Nats' favor, in that clearly they have reservations about the long-term contracts younger players like Harper and Rendon generally receive. Springer likely won't get a seven-year deal like Rendon got, and certainly not 13 years like Harper.

Springer will not be cheap on an average annual value basis, but the long-term commitment may not be nearly as daunting. He was on the payroll for $21 million this season. Maybe his next deal falls in the range of four years for $90 million, or five years for $120 million. It could be more, it could be less. But it won't cost $300 million to sign him.

If the Nats are outbid for Springer, they could turn to cheaper options in free agency. There are some other outfielders who could be good options like Michael Brantley, Springer's teammate in Houston, Marcell Ozuna of the Braves and Joc Pederson of the Dodgers.

According to Spotrac, the Nats spend more money on starting pitchers than any other team. Yet, they are 25th in money spent on outfielders and 22nd when it comes to infielders, respectively.

Going cheap with their lineup, however, didn't pay off this season as it did in 2019, when they won the World Series. In order to get back to contention, they are going to have to spend some money.

With Springer, the money would be well-spent.