The Rest of the Nationals Offseason Plans (Post Cliff Lee) Part I
Earlier we covered the Nationals pursuit of Cliff Lee and their backup plan if they can’t land the ace. What about the other moves the Nationals should make the rest of this offseason? Well in addition to a staff ace the Nationals need a first baseman, a center fielder and some bullpen help (in that order). Now the free agent market can’t provide all the solutions, so the Nationals will also need to explore the trade market as well.
Josh Willingham – Willingham might have just one year remaining on his contract, but he comes cheap and should bring back draft pick compensation for any club that acquires him. A number of contenders including Detroit, Cincinnati, Dodgers, Angels and Rays could be interested. The Athletics, Orioles and Mariners are also rumored to be interested.
Tyler Clippard- Clippard has revitalized his career as a back of the bullpen option and is very capable of being a setup man/closer for a number of teams (most contenders will see him as a setup man). His control isn’t the greatest, but he has a high strikeout rate and has continued to show signs of improving. He has at least 4 more years of team control, which should make him very marketable considering middle relievers are getting $3-4 million a year from some teams. He won’t be easy for the Nats to part with, but with Storen and some other bullpen options they can survive without him. In addition the Nationals are more likely to spend money on a free agent than a number of other teams, so if he can bring back a good young starting prospect or an every day positional fix for CF or 1B the Nationals have to do it.
Sean Burnett- Burnett is very similar to Clippard, with the exception that he only has 2 years remaining of team control. His salary should still be under $2 million this year making him an attractive option. Also Burnett is a lefty, who has the ability to be pretty sound against right handers as well. Both Clippard and Burnett will appeal to just about any team in baseball, but contenders will be the most likely scenario.
Derek Norris- Norris might be the best prospect you’ve never heard of (unless your a Nationals fan). He is one of the top catching prospects in the game and should be a lock for most top 50 lists. He is very likely to stay behind the plate and should be a strong offensive catcher if he does. It is not impossible to see him develop into a Brian McCann type of player. He is still probably two years away, but the Nationals have a promising young catcher in Wilson Ramos, and could move Norris in a major deal.
Jesus Flores- Flores has barely played the last two seasons, but he still could have some trade value simply because he is a cheap catcher with upside. The Nationals already have Ramos and Pudge Rodriguez for next year and Norris waiting in the wings. Given his injury history he can’t headline a deal, but he could be used in a smaller deal or for a lesser piece. Cardinals, Orioles, Rangers, Padres, Dodgers and the Yankees (assuming they don’t land Russel Martin) could all be interested in Flores.
Trades I’d Look to Make:
Josh Willingham to the Tigers for Andrew Oliver (SP): There is no guarantee the Tigers (or the Nationals) would do this deal, but I think it makes sense for both sides. Detroit needs left field help, and while signing Magglio Ordonez is an option, they might look to upgrade to Willingham here. While there is a risk of Willingham there for only one year, the Tigers would get draft picks if he leaves. Oliver is a power lefty pitcher who struggled last year (his first year overall in professional ball) in his major league debut with the Tigers. He did pitch well in both AA and AAA, but it is clear he isn’t major league ready for a contending team. For the Nationals they could have him work in the minors, or he could make the Major League rotation (esp. if Cliff Lee doesn’t sign) out of Spring Training. While there is some thought of him being a frontline pitcher, he profiles more of a 3 or a 4. There might be a lesser prospect involved from the Tigers as well, but Oliver would be good value for Willingham if the Nats can get it.
Trade Tyler Clippard or Sean Burnett to the Twins for Ben Revere or Joe Benson (CF’s): The Twins bullpen took a major hit this offseason with a number of free agent departures. In addition Matt Capps is under contract for just one more season and Joe Nathan is coming back from a major arm injury. To say that the Twins could use back of the bullpen arms is a gross understatement, and either Clippard or Burnett should interest them. As for deciding between Revere or Benson, your guess is as good as mine, because I want both of them on my team. Either player could be expendable for the Twins since they have better options both behind and in front of Benson/Revere for their long term CF option. Benson will probably hit for enough power to play a corner spot, but he has the most value as a CF. He is a better all around player with a better defensive arm, and very good power (should hit 20+ Hr’s in the majors). Revere on the other hand is a burner (though Benson has some wheels as well), and could easily sit atop the lineup as a leadoff hitter. He is a major base stealing threat and hits for a much better average. He could develop into an on-base machine, but he must maintain his OBP and steal rate to have value since he has about zero power. Revere is basically Major League ready, though Benson isn’t far behind him. Depending on which reliever the Twins like more and whether the Nats are getting Benson or Revere will determine the rest of the package. It won’t be much (though I wish it could be both), but one or two other solid prospects could be added to the deal.
Trade Clippard/Burnett to the Rays for Nick Barnese (RHP) and Kyle Lobstein (LHP): The Rays, like the Twins had their bullpen hit hard in free agency and could use some cost control options to stay in their payroll range. Tampa would probably prefer Clippard given the longer cost control, but could also use a lefty reliever. Barnese and Lobstein are two solid pitching prospects, but not among the Rays top pitching prospects. They are both 2+ years away, but project as middle of the rotation starters. It would be a solid return for the Nationals as it would add some quality depth to their farm system.
Trade Jesus Flores to the Cardinals for 1B/OF/3B Allen Craig: The Nats would probably need to add a minor prospect, but if the Cardinals aren’t satisfied with Bryan Anderson as their backup catcher, Flores would be a great option. Craig is extremely redundant in St. Louis with no starting spot in sight. Craig wouldn’t necessarily have a starting role in Washington though his utility should allow for him to receive a couple hundred at bats. He would be a great insurance policy in case the Nats don’t get a first baseman or Micheal Morse can’t repeat his 2010 success. The Nats would probably perfer a LH bench option, but I imagine Craig will interest them.