The Rest of the Nationals Offseason Plans (Post Cliff Lee) Part II
In Part I I discussed potential trades the Nationals should make the rest of this offseason to reshape their team. Part II I will discuss what free agent signings the Nationals should look at the rest of the way.
Adam LaRoche: The Nationals have been rumored to be after LaRoche for a little while now, and it makes perfect sense. He’s not going to break the bank, but he is a great fit for the Nats. He will hit about 25+ home runs a year with an OPS around .825, and he plays pretty good defense as well. For some reason he gets very little credit, and despite having multiple teams after him, I think he will be a bargain on the free agent market. You will probably have to offer at least a 2-year with an option deal, or potentially 3 guaranteed years, but LaRoche is worth it. LaRoche would be a very good lefty bat to break up Zimmerman, Werth, and Morse in the lineup.
Derek Lee: Lee has a similar profile to LaRoche, moderate power, low-mid .800’s OPS, good defense and left-handed. There are two major differences though. One, Lee has a more extensive injury history, so some risk is there. Two, Lee is a couple of years older, so the potential for a steep decline is real. Signing Lee for one year or one year with an option isn’t a bad idea, and you could even trade him at the deadline. The only problem is you’d have to also acquire a young 1B who could be ready by mid-year. A guy like Lars Anderson from the Red Sox could be an option, but it would mean using one of your trade chips from Part I.
Brandon Webb: Now since the Nationals did’t acquire Cliff Lee, signing Brandon Webb to an incentive laden contract would be a solid fall back plan. Webb at one time was an ace who would have commanded $20 million a year like Lee, but injuries these last two years has made him a major risk. Now he probably won’t be ready for opening day, but if you believe he can regain at least 75% of his effectiveness it would be a good signing.
Kevin Millwood: Now Millwood got rocked last year in the AL East, but I think he could have a bounce back year in the National League. Yes, a 4-16 record isn’t too promising, but some of his other numbers point to more success. Both his FIP and xFIP were both under 5 (compared to his ERA that was 5.10). That shows that Millwood was hurt by both poor fielding and an unluckiness with homeruns. When you also factor in playing in the American League East, I think he could be a solid 4.25 or less ERA in the National League. With the uncertainty of a guy like Webb, Millwood would be a good signing to hedge your bets with. Only a couple million guaranteed with maybe $2 million more in incentives would be well worth it for your 5th starter. While the Nationals have some young, interesting options, last year proved they need more consistency.
Jon Rauch: In Part One I advocated trading some of their bullpen depth to try to acquire some young major league ready prospects (or at least close to ML ready). Signing Rauch would be the counter-balance to ensure that the bullpen doesn’t become too weak. Since the Nats didn’t land Lee they will have plenty of money to spend, so no need to save money on the bullpen. As with any moderately known reliever, you can always trade them at the deadline for a solid prospect or two if you are out of the race. Rauch has some ability to help close if need be, but otherwise he is a very valuable 7th-8th inning guy. He’s got great command and was a fan favorite his last stint in Washington, and seems like a no-brainer for the Nationals.
Brian Fuentes: Fuentes like Rauch would be another back of the bullpen option, but really shouldn’t be a team’s closer. He struggled some during his time with the Angels, but really improved after the Twins acquired him midseason. He isn’t as dominate as he once was, but he is a lefty and should provide similar value to what Sean Burnett would have given the Nats. There will be a solid market for his services, but I think the Nationals can land him.
Bobby Jenks: Why not! Jenks was the one time closer for the White Sox, but they look to be moving in a different direction and being a non-tender he doesn’t cost the Nationals a draft pick. While his strike out rate has fluctuated in the past and has some cause for concern, he is coming off a good year (despite what most White Sox fans think) and could help ease Drew Storen into the closer role. If Jenks comes back strong and puts up big numbers (which could happen in the NL in a more neutral park), he could have BIG time trade value (i.e. twice what the Nats dealt Capps for). Now Jenks will cost a pretty penny in terms of money, but should be well worth it to the Nationals. Nats fans will appreciate his ability to avoid the long ball (which is pretty impressive considering he was in the AL in one of the best HR hitting ballparks).
Conclusion: LaRoche and Lee are a ‘one or the other’ situation, but the rest of these guys could all be Nationals this year. Webb and Millwood won’t make up for missing out on Lee, but the upside of Webb combined with the solid innings by Millwood do improve the Nationals in 2011. They aren’t a long term solution, but a decent (and cheap) stopgap option. There presence could help lead to a Livan Hernandez or Jason Marquis trade if either have value at the deadline. I know most Nats fans will have the most issue with trading Clippard and Burnett and replacing them with Rauch, Fuentes, and Jenks. Yes there are some lesser options the Nats could explore, but if they aren’t spending big bucks on Cliff Lee, why not invest in the bullpen. First of all, none of these guys will cost a draft pick, and two, 1 or 2 of them could be traded at the deadline for some good prospects. Yes, other teams could pursue these relievers instead of trading for Clippard or Burnett, but low to mid market teams (even some of the big boys) might rather trade their prospect depth than pay the full price on these relievers. The Nationals, who have plenty of payroll flexibility can afford the $12-15 million it will cost to add these guys. When you factor in the prospects/young players the Nationals could acquire for Clippard and Burnett, it is well worth investing that much money for bullpen help. These trades and signings won’t totally put the Nationals in the playoff hunt, but it does move them closer. And if a few of their guys develop correctly, they will be there in a couple of years.