Free agency officially began at 5 p.m. Eastern Monday afternoon. The market is open. The free-for-all can commence. The offseason can proceed, full speed ahead.
In recent offseasons, the Nationals have emerged as reliable contenders for big name free agents, regardless of their perceived needs. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo is willing to stockpile, and the Lerner family at times has been willing to pay for elite talent.
But the Nationals enter this offseason having crossed the luxury tax threshold for the first time in their history, and paid a 20 percent tax on their overages. After Matt Wieters exercised his option worth $10.5 million for 2018, their payroll seems likely to cross that luxury tax threshold again in 2018 — before the addition of any major free agents.
The tax alone does not necessarily preclude the Nationals from spending big. The potential loss of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy (among others) to free agency after this season means they will likely have to spend next winter, and would therefore be inspired to frugality now. Besides, they have little room in their lineup for another star-type, even if Murphy’s knee injury keeps him out of activity beyond Opening Day.
If the Nationals are to spend this offseason, they seem likely to do so on pitching. Gio Gonzalez is a free agent after next season, and Max Scherzer showed his first signs of fragility in 2017. They have a history of stockpiling starters, marked by acquisitions such as Scherzer and Doug Fister, who slid into an already strong rotation such as the one the Nationals will have to start next season.
In the bullpen, Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton, Brandon Kintzler and Matt Albers are all free agents, and while the Nationals might re-sign some of them, they likely will have to hunt elsewhere to bolster their relief corps. With Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle already slotted into set-up and closer positions, the Nationals will not be scrambling for relief help. But they can always use it.
So with that, a quick, early, and largely speculative look at some of the free agent names that could intrigue the Nationals.
Who might the Nationals target in free agency?
Washington Post | Nov 7