By: Chris Larson
After winning a World Series Championship this past October, the Washington Nationals were left with a couple of holes on their roster. The two most notable holes were found in their starting rotation with Stephen Strasburg becoming a free agent and over at third base with Anthony Rendon officially hitting free agency. When you subtract both of those players from any team around baseball, you can understand the loss that any organization would sustain and why there would be some doubt about the future outlook of that respective team.
Well, have no fear because earlier this offseason, the Washington Nationals were able to reunite themselves with free agent, Stephen Strasburg on a seven-year, $245 million dollar deal. The deal is a risky one especially considering that Strasburg will enter his age 32 season coming up, but it's a gamble worth taking especially since the Washington Nationals see an opportunity to win the National League East again in 2020 and a chance to be repeat World Series champions.
After signing Stephen Strasburg, things remained quiet for the Washington Nationals with only a few rumblings about what the next move of the team could be. Prior to Anthony Rendon signing with the Los Angeles Angels, there was some doubt that the Nationals would be able to afford both Strasburg and Rendon at the same time on their new respective deals and sure enough, that was the case. Instead, the Nationals decided to pass on Rendon and focus on other options at third base via the free agent and trade markets.
Among the players they have been targeting thus far to replace Anthony Rendon, free agent Josh Donaldson sits chief among them. According to various reports, the organization has a four-year offer out on the table. Other potential third baseman that the Washington Nationals have been connected to include Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and to a lesser degree Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies. To acquire Bryant or Arenado though, it will require the Washington Nationals to give up prospect capital and potentially a notable player such as centerfielder, Victor Robles.
However, while the organization has a reported four-year offer on the table to Donaldson, their pursuit of him might not be as serious now as it was just a few days ago. The reason being is because just yesterday, the organization agreed to terms with free agent, Asdrubal Cabrera on a one-year, $2.5 million dollar deal that can reach $3 million dollars when you factor in the incentives involved. Cabrera was a very important role player for the team last year down the stretch in their pursuit of their aforementioned World Series Championship and gives the Nationals a legitimate option at the hot corner should they lose out on Donaldson.
Cabrera, who will enter his age 34 season this coming year, was traded to the Washington Nationals from the Texas Rangers halfway through the 2019 regular season. After being acquired by the Nationals over the span of 38 games, Cabrera slashed: .323/.404/.565 with 40 hits, 6 home runs, 40 RBI, 19 walks, and 18 strikeouts. Furthermore, Cabrera put up a .330 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), a 145 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) value, and a Hard Hit Rate of 48.6% during that period of time with the Nationals.
Therefore, while Asdrubal Cabrera might not be at the same level as Josh Donaldson, the Washington Nationals know that he gives them a legitimate option at third base and a bat that helps to compliment their everyday lineup in a nice way.
Prior to signing third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, the Washington Nationals made another under-the-radar move on Friday when they agreed to a deal with free agent second baseman, Starlin Castro. The soon to be 30-year old Castro played for the Miami Marlins the past two seasons before being released by the organization at the onset of this offseason. With Howie Kendrick inserted at first base in the Nationals organizational plan for next season, Washington knew they had to find a second baseman and one that could compliment their infield in a nice way.
Castro does that in many regards and while he might have had two below average seasons in Miami, there's still a lot of optimism that his bat will come around as soon as this coming season. Beyond just general statistics, Castro was valuable for the Miami Marlins from a durability standpoint as well. When you combine 2018 and 2019 together, Castro played in a total of 316 games between the two seasons. It's not often that happens in the game anymore as illustrated by the fact that only, five players, played in all 162 games last year.
Projecting ahead to the 2020 regular season, FanGraphs Steamer projects Castro to end the year with a slash line of: .283/.324/.440 over the span of 537 plate appearances. In that period of time, the Steamer projections expect Castro to have a walk percentage of 5.5%, a strikeout percentage of 18.1%, and a total Wins Above Replacement value of 1.2. In the bigger picture, it's not likely that Castro will be one of the top second baseman in all of baseball in 2020, but it's a very good addition to the Washington Nationals and one that only required a two-year, $12 million dollar guarantee.
Outside of the additions of Asdruabl Cabrera and Starlin Castro, the Washington Nationals also made a significant addition in the free agent relief pitching market. The deal was officially announced by the team last Friday, but on Thursday the organization came to terms with free agent reliever, Will Harris on a three-year, $24 million dollar deal. Going into this offseason, the Nationals bullpen was once again subpar considering the amount of uncertainty there was outside of left-hander, Sean Doolittle and right-hander, Tanner Rainey.
If you recall, last season the Washington Nationals had the worst bullpen in all of baseball. The Nationals bullpen finished the 2019 regular season with a 5.66 ERA over 500.2 innings of work with the third highest Opponent Batting Average Against of .266 amongst all thirty teams. By adding Harris to the equation, the Washington Nationals brought in easily the next best reliever behind, Will Smith who many lidentified as the best option in this offseason's free agent reliever market.
During his walk year last season with the Houston Astros, Harris posted a 1.50 ERA over 60 innings of work with a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 9.30 and a 3.15 FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage). Given that the deal is for three years and that Harris will turn 36 years old this coming August, there is certainly some risk involved, but the move was made with the present in mind and correlates with the idea of the Washington Nationals trying to keep their current window open. Furthermore, Harris did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground and inside the ballpark, as illustrated by his groundball percentage of 54.6% - the second highest value of his big league career.
One intriguing note on Will Harris is how often he incorporated his curveball into his pitch repertoire last season. Harris relied on his curveball approximately 42.2% of the time compared to 37.5% of the time during the 2018 regular season. His bread and butter pitch is still his cutter which he threw 56.7% of the time last season and had a cumulative Whiff Rate of 24.8% with. Now that Harris is switching divisions and going back to the National League, it will be interesting to see what his pitch repertoire consists of this coming season.
While the Washington Nationals have yet to sign Josh Donaldson or make a really big splash in free agency outside of the signing of starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the team has done a fantastic job of complimenting it's roster and addressing multiple needs with the money left on the payroll. The Washington Nationals obviously have their eyes set on yet another National League East Championship in 2020 and will be vying hard to be repeat World Series champions as well. Whether or not that plan ends up working out for the team remains to be seen, but regardless the Nationals have primed themselves to be at the top of the National League this coming season and a serious threat for every other team in baseball.