NASHVILLE — The Nationals’ pursuit of Ben Zobrist wasn’t lip service. They made a serious run at the veteran free agent, so much so that one source familiar with the process said they actually offered more money than the $56 million he wound up taking from the Cubs last night.
That said, the Nationals didn’t desperately need to acquire Zobrist. They have no shortage of viable candidates to fill out their infield. And they have two quite established corner outfielders who aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future.
One question, however, does remain: Do the Nationals really need another bat in their lineup, particularly a left-handed one?
Bryce Harper made it clear on the season’s final day he believes so.
“The one thing we definitely need is another left-handed bat, and hopefully a huge right-handed bat to hit behind me or in front of me,” Harper said. “If we can do that, that would definitely help us out and put us up to the top.”
The “huge right-handed bat to hit behind me or in front of me” Harper alluded to is already on the roster. Actually, the Nationals have one right-handed bat to hit in front of him (Anthony Rendon) and another to hit behind him (Ryan Zimmerman). They just need both guys to stay healthy in 2016.
That left-handed bat, though, remains elusive. As things stand today, there may be only one other left-handed bat in the lineup altogether. Here’s what a projected 2016 lineup looks like at this moment…
LF Jayson Werth (R)
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
CF Michael Taylor (R)
C Wilson Ramos (R)
That is way too right-handed-heavy. And nothing changes in that regard if and when Trea Turner takes over as either the everyday shortstop or second baseman, being right-handed himself.
So there appears to be legitimate reason for the Nationals, after missing out on Zobrist, to pursue another left-handed bat. There aren’t a ton of options that would fit, but here are two potentially intriguing possibilities…
Daniel Murphy: The Mets’ postseason hero was the talk of the baseball world throughout October, but you haven’t heard much about him over the last month. That’s because everybody had Zobrist higher on their wish lists of second basemen. There’s no denying Murphy’s offensive capabilities, though. No, he’s not the Ruthian power hitter he appeared to be for three weeks in October, but he does boast a career .288/.331/.424 slash line that bears some resemblance to Zobrist’s stats. Defensively, he’s poor, and that would be a concern. But his bat certainly would look nice somewhere around the middle of the Nationals’ lineup and would help bring some much-needed balance.
Gerardo Parra: The Nationals were interested in the outfielder over the summer, but the Brewers wound up dealing him to the Orioles instead. Parra struggled in 55 games in Baltimore, hitting a scant .237/.268/.357. But he has established himself as a good hitter over the entirety of his career (.277/.326/.404). He also excels in the field and can play all three outfield positions. His acquisition would give the Nationals four starting-caliber outfielders and would put pressure on Dusty Baker to find playing time for all. But as a left-handed hitter, Parra would be a natural fill-in for either Werth in left field or Taylor in center field.
The markets for Murphy and Parra have yet to heat up, but the expectation around the Winter Meetings all week has been that Zobrist’s signing would start the chain of dominoes. The Nationals may or may not wind up with either guy, but they certainly don’t want to find themselves empty-handed when that final domino does fall.