The Washington Nationals made strong efforts to make their team better this winter. They signed All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth to a franchise-record contract, and were very much in the mix to land former Cy Young award pitchers Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke. Unfortunately, despite finding themselves in the headlines virtually every week with their pursuit of franchise talents, the club finds themselves looking towards spring without several important questions answered.
Who will play first base? Who will anchor the rotation? Who will be a starting outfielder going into the future?
The club looked to free-agency this winter to help make them a competitor in 2011, and unfortunately it looks like their plan has failed. However, what’s worse is that a quick glance at next years free-agent class shows that the Nationals may not be able to pick up much talent next winter either. Here are the potential fits for the Nationals of the slim-pickings class of 2011, along with thier likelihood to even hit free-agency:
1B – Prince Fielder: Fielder’s case got a lot more interesting with the arrival of Zack Greinke in Milwaukee. The slugging first baseman’s situation has improved this winter from him being a part of a losing team that wouldn’t give him an extension to possibly being in the thick of the playoff race. As a result, the likelihood of Fielder being traded midseason has dropped dramatically, unless disaster strikes for the Brew Crew. This means that there is a high chance Fielder will hit next offseason as a free-agent…and he’ll be looking for big time money. While he is a career .279/.385/.535 hitter, his below average glove and potential weight problem makes him seem like an unlikely candidate to be Adam Dunn’s eventual replacement.
1B – Albert Pujols: If I were a gambling man, I would not bet on Albert Pujols reaching free-agency next year. Pujols signed an extremely team-friendly extension in 2004 which has only cost the club $116 million in the eight seasons. Considering he may be the best hitter of all time, that’s a steal. The two sides want to reach an agreement for another extension, but if they don’t it could get ugly and we could see Pujols hit the market as one of the most sought after free-agents of all time. While he will be 32-years-old, the Nationals have proved this year their willingness to overpay for older free-agents. I’d give it a one in million chance, but it’s there.
OF – Jose Batista: Batista had one of the biggest years since the Steroid Era last season as he came out of oblivion to hit .260/.378/.617 with 54 homers and a 124 RBI. His steller 2010 season no doubt will make him an attractive target next offseason but his contract will by-in-large be a result of how he performs in 2011. That is to say, Batista needs to prove that he is the real deal and that last year was not a fluke. It’s very rare for players to go from obscurity to being the most dangerous home run hitter in the game, but if Batista can prove he can do it again the Nats could target him to play first base or corner outfielder.
SP – Scott Kazmir: There was a time when the name Scott Kazmir brought nothing but pain to New York Mets fans. One of the top pitching prospects in baseball in the early 2000’s, the Mets foolishly traded him away for Victor Zambrano in a half-hearted attempt to make the playoffs. In 2006 when the Mets were a starting pitcher away from the World Series, the club had to watch as Kazmir tore up the American League as one of the hottest young starters in baseball. After four great years to start his career, Kazmir has been awful the past two seasons for Tampa and Anaheim. Still, he is just 26 years old and has put up three MLB seasons where has averaged at least 9.81 K/9. If he bounces back in 2011 he could be an unbelievable pick up for the Nationals for 2012.
Other potential free agents who likely aren’t fits are Robinson Cano, Brandon Phillips, and Rickie Weeks, although they could be options if either Desmond or Espinosa flop. As you can see there is the possibility for several super stars to be available next winter, however by and large the options are slim, especially with pitching.