5 Free Agents the Washington Nationals Must Sign to Guarantee World Series Trip
The Washington Nationals had the best record in the National League last season, making them favorites to make the World Series.
The abrupt shutdown of Stephen Strasburg may have hurt their chances, though. In the division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, it was clear that the Nationals would have benefited from having another dominant starter.
Throw in a shoddy performance from Drew Storen and a few other mistakes along the way, and the Nationals were sent home in a heartbreaking Game 5 by the Cardinals.
The Nationals are still a very strong team, even with a few question marks regarding next season's roster.
Adam LaRoche, Sean Burnett, Edwin Jackson and a few other players are free agents, and it remains to be seen which ones will be brought back.
After that's decided, general manager Mike Rizzo can take a look at what's left on the market in hopes of improving his team.
With the right additions, the Nationals can essentially be guaranteed a World Series berth in 2013.
Michael Bourn should be the team's No. 1 priority this offseason.
The Nationals lacked a true leadoff hitter last season, as Jayson Werth should not be the answer. The Nationals signed him to drive in runs, not score them.
Signing Bourn would give the rest of the lineup much-needed balance, while also helping to bring the team's other needs to light.
With Bourn in center, Bryce Harper can play left with Werth in right.
This either makes Michael Morse the option at first base or expendable. Should he stay, LaRoche doesn't need to be re-signed. Should he be traded, he could potentially address other needs in the bullpen.
It's a semi-complicated situation, but Bourn is well worth it.
His presence on the base paths and in the outfield would make the Nationals even better than they already were.
Burnett has been with the Nationals since midway through the 2009 season, and he's been one of the best left-handed relievers since.
He has a career 2.81 ERA with the Nationals and has been a reliable arm in the late innings for former manager Jim Riggleman and current manager Davey Johnson.
Burnett could be seeking a Jeremy Affeldt-type deal, and it's one that he'd likely have no problems attaining.
The Nationals need him in the 'pen, especially considering that their other lefty, Mike Gonzalez, is a free agent as well.
Longevity makes Burnett the more attractive option. His presence in the bullpen makes late-game managing easier for Johnson, so Rizzo should make sure he takes care of his left-hander.
Zack Greinke is the winter's best available starter, and the Nationals are already set with two aces (Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez) and one almost-ace (Jordan Zimmerman).
Greinke would be a tremendous addition, but Rizzo may not have the funds available to get him after filling the team's other holes.
That's why Anibal Sanchez is a perfect fit for Washington.
Sanchez has a career ERA of 3.75, most of which came in the National League East as a member of the Florida/Miami Marlins.
Knowing that Sanchez can pitch well in the division should be reassuring for the Nationals.
He'll likely command a deal in the $75 million range (though he's seeking $90 million) stretched out over five years, but that's not terrible for a 28-year-old pitcher of Sanchez's caliber.
He also doesn't have many innings under his belt for someone who has been pitching for seven seasons. From 2007-09, he tossed fewer than 200 innings due to various injuries.
Sanchez would help to strengthen an already strong pitching rotation.
After the letdown the Nationals encountered with their bullpen in the Division Series, Rizzo should be on a mission to stockpile arms.
That's why re-signing Burnett is so important, and that's why going after a guy like Jason Grilli is important.
After several seasons of mediocrity, Grilli stepped into his own the past two seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over 28 games in 2011, he posted a 2.48 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 32.2 innings.
Over 64 games in 2012, he compiled an ERA of 2.91 with 90 strikeouts in 58.2 innings.
He won't give Drew Storen a run for his money as closer, but he and Tyler Clippard would create a dominant bridge to the ninth inning.
Burnett could then become a stellar sixth-inning guy or super-lefty specialist. This would create arguably the deepest bullpen in the National League.
Kurt Suzuki filled the Nationals' catching void nicely last season after injuries to Jesus Flores and Wilson Ramos, but the three really lack any sort of consistency.
Suzuki is average at best, and Flores and Ramos have been given plenty of opportunities to succeed over the past several seasons.
A.J. Pierzynski represents a quality one- or two-year option.
He's coming off an excellent season at age 36, smashing a career-high 27 home runs and driving in 77—tying a career high.
His line of .278/.326/.501 was also very impressive.
Keeping Suzuki on as the second catcher would be smart, as Pierzynski may not be able to catch over 125 games in 2013.
He's caught at least 128 games every season since 2002, making him a possible candidate for a decline defensively.
Pierzynski's addition would add yet another strong bat to the Nationals' lineup.