Updated Chances for Washington Nationals to Sign Top 5 Remaining FA Targets
Most free-agency talk regarding the Washington Nationals this winter will start and end with their search for a second baseman. But MLB's offseason isn't called the "Hot Stove" because of aging middle infielders moving teams.
It's true, Washington could probably trot out its roster as is and contend for its second consecutive division title. But, as The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell points out, a blockbuster signing is never out of the question with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo.
Rizzo proved that to be true in 2011 with the acquisition of outfielder Jayson Werth and in 2012 when he brought in starter Gio Gonzalez, two players who have been instrumental in the Nationals' recent success.
This time around, it's free-agent hurler Max Scherzer's name that is punctuating the discussion of second base options like Jed Lowrie and Stephen Drew.
Washington's biggest waves in free agency should come once the likes of Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are either dealt or signed to extensions, but the Nationals are highly unlikely to remain quiet all offseason.
Therefore, here are the chances some of Washington's most notable targets don the red, white and blue next season.
Jed Lowrie: 55 Percent
Of the Nationals' top three options at second base, Jed Lowrie looks most likely to end up in Washington before it's all said and done.
The Nats need power hitting, and Lowrie has shown potential in that department. He turned in an extremely solid 2013 season, playing in 154 games for the Oakland Athletics and earning a .790 OPS in the process.
He hit 15 home runs that year and knocked out 16 for the Houston Astros in 2012, but he cooled off this past season.
Lowrie is a shortstop by trade but, as reported by MLB.com's Jane Lee, the 30-year-old would cooperate with a move to second in 2015. And if he ends up with the Nationals, that's the position he'd play.
Lowrie said, per Lee:
I'm not going to go into the offseason saying I'm only going to play shortstop, but what I do want is the chance to play the same position, whether that's shortstop or whether that's second base. Flip-flopping back and forth, that just doesn't interest me at all. I'd like to be able to play one position.
Stephen Drew: 25 Percent
A move from Asdrubal Cabrera to Stephen Drew would be more or less a lateral one, but Washington seems inclined to go with the latter if given the choice.
Drew isn't a terrible player, he has a career batting average of .256 in his 3,782 at-bats over nine seasons. But his 2014 was, by all accounts, terrible.
At 31 years old, he is by no means a long-term solution at second base for the Nationals, but his overall credentials are what could earn Drew a one-year deal in Washington. He's also a cheaper alternative to Lowrie—Drew earned $3.254 million last season, while Lowrie brought in $5.25 million.
If Washington wants someone with a low price tag and a decent upside to hold down second base, then we could see Drew end up with the Nationals.
Asdrubal Cabrera: 20 Percent
Asdrubal Cabrera joined the Nationals in a deadline trade with the Cleveland Indians last July. And according to a report by The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, he made a good impression on general manager Mike Rizzo in his short stint in D.C.
"He had a great half a season for us,” Rizzo said. “He was a great teammate. He’s a professional player. He plays good defense. He’s a guy we had a great feel for. We know that specific player very well."
That being said, Cabrera's cost combined with his lack of offensive firepower should be enough to steer Washington in another direction.
In Kilgore's article, he reports that the New York Yankees are also interested in the 29-year-old's services. That's the sort of competition that can drive up a price tag.
The Nationals would be better served to stick with in-house former starter Danny Espinosa if given the choice between him and Cabrera. Both are switch-hitters, but Espinosa hit .301 with an OPS of .859 against lefties last year, compared to Cabrera's .250 and .689 in 2014.
Max Scherzer: 15 Percent
A scenario in which the Nationals sign free-agent Cy Young winner Max Scherzer relies heavily on the departure of Jordan Zimmermann.
Arguably the best starer Washington has, Zimmermann is entering the final year of his current contract. And if Washington can't work out an extension, he could be used as trade value for Scherzer.
If the stars align, the Nationals could make the biggest signing of the offseason if they bring in the Detroit Tigers' flamethrower.
Rosenthal also offers the suggestion that Scherzer's agent, one Scott Boras, has a strong enough relationship with Washington by way of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth to make a difference in the Nationals' pursuit if the situation should arise.
The chances of Washington making a push for Scherzer increase every day that Jordan Zimmermann remains on his current contract, but for now it's more of a "what if?" scenario.
Casey Janssen: 5 Percent
Washington declined to pick up the option on closer Rafael Soriano's contract, but that doesn't mean the Nationals are exactly in the market for a new ninth-inning pitcher this winter.
In the last month of the season, a downward spiral from Soriano landed Drew Storen the role of closer in Washington. He promptly recorded 10 consecutive saves to close out the season and all but solidified himself as the man for the job.
But a 6.75 ERA in the 2014 postseason creates the slight chance that the Nationals look elsewhere for a closer.
The most viable option in free agency is Casey Janssen, who had a career year in 2013 with 34 saves for the Toronto Blue Jays.
2014 wasn't ideal for the 33-year-old. This past season, he earned his first ERA north of 3.00 since 2010. But the 6'4" righty has done enough in his career to become the most prominent free-agent closer of this offseason.
Storen received a vote of confidence from general manager Mike Rizzo as recently as mid-November, when the GM told The Washington Post's James Wagner that there is "not a need to search for a closer."
So it's highly unlikely that the Nationals enter the bidding for a closer, but if they did, Janssen would be the best option.