MLB Rumors: Nationals Unlikely to Be 'Major Player' for Kris Bryant, DJ LeMahieu

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2020

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant fields his position during a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

While the Washington Nationals would benefit from adding some offensive reinforcements this offseason, they may not be in the market for two of the best hitters available.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal provided an update on the Nationals' situation:

"According to a source, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is scheduled to speak with team ownership on Tuesday. The discussion is expected to provide Rizzo with greater clarity on the club’s payroll for 2021, but the Nats remain unlikely to be a major player for a big-ticket item such as Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant or free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu, sources say."

The Nationals were World Series champions, and they haven't exactly been thrifty over the past few years. Their year-end 40-man payroll hasn't fallen out of the top 10 since 2012. Washington signed Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million extension ahead of the 2020 season.

However, Rosenthal alluded to how one or two marquee players may not salve what ails the Nats offense.

The team finished 10th in weighted on-base average (.330) and 13th in weighted runs created plus (103), per FanGraphs, but those numbers were skewed somewhat by Trea Turner and Juan Soto. They were the only two Washington players to post more than 1.0 WAR.

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Rosenthal posited Rizzo might prefer to use whatever spending flexibility he has to cast a wider net and target multiple areas of need.

Bryant earned $18.6 million in 2020, and MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes projected him to earn that much again in 2021 before he becomes a free agent. The Mookie Betts trade showed how the going rate for star players on what are effectively expiring contracts may not be that high, but a possible extension for Bryant has to be factored in for any team pursuing the 2016 National League MVP.

LeMahieu, meanwhile, is one of the best position players in free agency. He's a career .305 hitter who can fill in at second, third or even first when the situation calls for it.

The 32-year-old almost certainly won't match the seven-year, $245 million contract Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels.

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, his home and road splits with the New York Yankees raise some concerns. He slugged .585 at Yankee Stadium and .459 on the road in 2019, per Baseball Reference. The gap was far more pronounced in 2020 (.784 home; .398 away).

Still, LeMahieu figures to get a healthy payday this winter given the dearth of middle infield options.