10 Ways to Fix Washington Nationals' 2015 Dumpster Fire
Max Scherzer's expression above left in the above photo tells the story of the Washington Nationals' 2015 season.
Just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse for the Nats—the biggest disappointment in baseball with a .500 record after being considered one of the top World Series contenders in preseason—they did. A lot worse.
Jonathan Papelbon made sure of that on Sunday, when the volatile closer incited a dugout brawl with Bryce Harper by trying to choke out the best player in the bigs.
Now, general manager Mike Rizzo can add discarding Papelbon to an already daunting offseason to-do list. There's no way around it—Rizzo has a ton of work to do this winter as he looks to put out the dumpster fire and get the club back in playoff contention in 2016.
The exec needs to revamp the bullpen, rework the infield and decide what to do with an assortment of high-profile free agents. He also needs to show manager Matt Williams the door.
Bring Back Denard Span
From Jordan Zimmermann to Doug Fister to Ian Desmond and Denard Span, there are a ton of prominent Nats who are about to hit free agency.
Span is one free-agent to-be whom the club simply can't afford to lose.
Because of back and hip problems, the center fielder only appeared in 61 games in 2015. One look at the standings proves just how valuable the table-setter is in the nation's capital. According to SI.com, Washington was 36-25 in games Span started and just 43-51 in games he didn't.
Considering that Span will be 32 by the time Opening Day 2016 rolls around, the front office should look to ink the leadoff man to a one-year deal in the neighborhood of the $9 million salary that he earned in 2015 with an option for 2017.
Let Ian Desmond Walk and Install Trea Turner at Shortstop
The clock is ticking on Desmond's tenure with the Nationals. Just ask the 30-year-old.
“I know that there’s a new chapter looming,” Desmond told James Wagner of the Washington Post.
For the NL East squad, that new chapter should include letting Desmond walk as a free agent and plugging in top prospect Trea Turner.
The 22-year-old, who was a first-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2014, dominated in the upper minor leagues this summer. While splitting the season between Double-A (with both the Pads and Nats) and Washington's Triple-A team, Turner logged a .322 average, an .828 OPS and piled up 29 steals.
Meanwhile, Washington could present Desmond with a qualifying offer and then pick up a compensation pick when the vet opts for a multiyear deal from a free-agent suitor.
Put Anthony Rendon Back at 3rd and Move Yunel Escobar to 2nd
If the Nationals want to trot out the club's best infield alignment in 2016, Anthony Rendon needs to return to third base.
In 2015, Rendon, who has only appeared in 74 games as a result of a couple of stints on the disabled list, has spent most of his time up the middle. The 25-year-old has made 58 starts at second and just 14 at third, as Yunel Escobar has started 132 games at the hot corner.
The advanced numbers suggest that Rendon is far superior to Escobar at that spot. According to FanGraphs, Rendon saved the Nationals 12 runs at third in 2014. This season, Escobar has already cost Washington 12 runs, which is the worst mark among all NL third baseman.
Next year, Rendon needs to be back at third, and Escobar should be turning double plays with Turner.
Try to Get a Compensation Pick by Offering Doug Fister a Qualifying Offer
Admittedly, this move entails some danger.
With Fister set to become a free agent, the Nats should extend the right-hander a qualifying offer with the hopes that he rejects it and the club ends up netting a comp pick. According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the value of this year's qualifying offer is expected to be in the range of $15.7 million to $16 million.
There's a chance that Fister could end up accepting that offer. After all, 31-year-old was lugging around a 4-7 record and a 4.60 ERA when the Nats jettisoned him to the bullpen at the beginning of August.
But there's a better chance that he will receive a more favorable multiyear offer thanks to his solid track record. From 2011 to 2014, Fister never sported an ERA north of 3.67.
Let Jordan Zimmermann Leave to Free Up Funds for the Future
Along with Fister, the Nats will also have to figure out what to do Zimmermann, their other free-agent-starter-to-be.
The righty hasn't been at the top of his game in 2015, reeling off a 3.68 ERA, which is his worst mark since 2010. On Friday, he turned in a dud of a start in what could very well be his final home outing at Nationals Park, serving up six earned runs in five frames against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Williams replaced Zimmermann with a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth, which meant he never got the chance to tip his cap to the crowd.
“I would’ve pulled me there too,” Zimmermann said, per Eddie Matz of ESPN.
Even with his underwhelming year on the mound, the 28-year-old, who owns a 3.32 ERA in seven seasons in the bigs, is still on his way to making a mint in the offseason. Washington should offer the starter a qualifying offer that he will surely reject.
The Nats can afford to let Zimmermann and Fister head out the door because the club can turn to the likes of Joe Ross, Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole to battle for their rotation spots.
Plus, by parting ways with Zimmermann, the Nationals can save some money to potentially make a run at re-signing Stephen Strasburg when the ace becomes a free agent at the end of 2016.
Get Rid of Jonathan Papelbon
This is going to be awfully expensive.
At the time of Papelbon's trade to the Nationals, the club agreed to pick up the closer's $11 million option for 2016, according to James Wagner of the Washington Post. But after Papelbon went after Harper in the dugout at Nationals Park, it's difficult to see how the club can justify bringing him back.
Washington will likely have to eat a significant chunk of Papelbon's remaining salary, but it's worth it. Unloading the 34-year-old will prove to be a classic example of addition by subtraction. For Rizzo, Papelbon isn't the only veteran reliever that he will have to part ways with on the trade block this winter.
Trade Drew Storen
The Nats put Drew Storen in a bad spot when the team demoted him from the closer's role after trading for Papelbon. But Storen also put the Nats in a bad spot when he broke his thumb by slamming his locker shut after a disappointing loss earlier in September.
At the time, Rizzo admitted as much.
"It hurts the team," Rizzo said, per Chris Johnson of MASN. "We went through this a couple years ago with a relief pitcher and it really affects the other bullpen members. So it's unfortunate and we're not too happy about it."
Now, the best course of action for both sides is to part ways. By trading away Storen in the offseason, the club could make way for the return of a familiar face who happens to be a reliable reliever.
Bring Back Tyler Clippard
Tyler Clippard has plenty of experience locking down the eighth inning for the Nationals.
In seven seasons with the club, the setup man ripped off a 2.68 ERA and a 10.3 strikeout-per-nine ratio. After an offseason trade to the Oakland Athletics, Clippard has logged a 2.87 ERA while splitting the year between the AL West and the NL East with the New York Mets.
Rizzo should aim to bring back the free-agent-to-be this offseason, but he's not the only prominent reliever that the Nats should be zeroing in on.
Trade for Aroldis Chapman
What better way to revamp a lackluster bullpen than to trade for the most electric closer in baseball?
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Nats were one of the teams linked to Aroldis Chapman before the trade deadline passed. The Cuban didn't end up going anywhere, and he has posted a 1.71 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds in 2015, racking up 111 punchouts in 63 innings.
This offseason, Rizzo needs to get back on the phone with Walt Jocketty, the GM of the Reds, and work out a deal to bring Chapman to the NL East.
Ax Matt Williams
It's been a bad year for Williams. And for the skipper, it's not just tactical mistakes and mismanaging the bullpen that have landed him squarely on the hot seat. The central issue is that Williams is no longer respected in the clubhouse.
“It’s a terrible environment," one anonymous player told Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. "And the amazing part is everybody feels that way.”
It was also a terrible environment in the dugout when Papelbon scuffled with the odds-on favorite to win the NL MVP. But apparently Williams didn't even notice.
The manager put Papelbon back into the game following the scuffle, explaining that he was on the opposite end of the dugout and didn't appreciate the "severity of the fight," per James Wagner of the Washington Post.
That's a ridiculous and unacceptable explanation from Williams. Papelbon should have been banished from the dugout—not sent back to the mound. For the Nats, bringing back Williams in 2016 would be equally ridiculous and unacceptable.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.