The disappointing season for the Washington Nationals is coming to a close with a weekend series in Colorado. The big news around the team right now is the pending free agency of superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Straight up here I will say I think they should do everything possible to bring Harper back. He's still in the middle of his prime at age 25 and will very likely be one of the best players in baseball for the next five years. You don't just let those players go without a fight. You try to keep and/or acquire players like this.
Further, it's not as if the Nationals can't afford Harper. The Lerner family is one of the richest ownership groups in baseball. They can afford him and anyone who says otherwise is foolish.
I do, however, love looking at things from every side and here I will play devil's advocate with myself. Presenting the case for the Nationals letting Bryce Harper go without the slightest of fights.
First off, the outfield is covered. Adam Eaton is a good player at age 29 and is signed through next season with two more club options after that. Nineteen-year-old Juan Soto is a phenom, having one of the best seasons a teenager has ever had at this level. Then there's 21-year-old Victor Robles, who is hitting .275/.321/.529 in 56 plate appearances this season. He was considered the fifth-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America entering the season. Michael A. Taylor has been awful this season, but he was plenty acceptable last season and there's hope he could return to that level and play as a fourth outfielder. Really, there's potential here to have an above average outfield next season without Harper.
Playing off of that, the Nationals won't be in a situation that if they lose Harper, they need to start over. They've offloaded guys once they fell out of the race, like Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez, but those guys were free agents anyway. What remains in house?
- The aforementioned good outfield.
- Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon are a very good left side of the infield while Ryan Zimmerman has hit .295/.374/.538 in 198 plate appearances since returning from injury.
- Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg anchor the rotation. Joe Ross was a productive member of the rotation before he had Tommy John surgery and he'll be full go next year.
- There are two club options on All-Star closer Sean Doolittle the Nationals will surely pick up, so he'll lead the bullpen.
This is a strong foundation, one that could absolutely return to the playoffs in 2019. There are holes, though, and maybe choosing the route of filling multiple holes with the money that might have been earmarked for Harper would be the approach?
The Nats have gotten terrible production from catcher. Maybe they make another attempt to trade for J.T. Realmuto, but it's hard to see it working any better this time around. Some free agents could be of big help: Wilson Ramos (old friend alert!) and Yasmani Grandal would make sense.
Going by Wins Above Average by position (baseball-reference.com), the Nats have been with the worst in baseball with second basemen this season. Murphy now has the range of piece of lawn furniture, so they needn't try to bring him back. Free agent second sackers: Brian Dozier, D.J. LeMahieu, Josh Harrison (if the Pirates don't pick up his $10.5M option), Logan Forsythe, Daniel Descalso, Asdrubal Cabrera (another old friend!), Eduardo Nunez and Jed Lowrie.
You know who seems like a good fit? Marwin Gonzalez is a free agent and can play almost anywhere. Having a swiss army knife on defense is a plus.
As far as the rotation, Erick Fedde will probably get another chance and it's possible the Nationals bring Jeremy Hellickson back. Tanner Roark was great in 2016, so it's possible to see a bounce back. They could also pursue guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Wade Miley or Charlie Morton in free agency. Or they could look bigger and go after Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel.
Without ponying up the dough necessary to sign Harper, could the Nationals swing something like Ramos, Gonzalez and Keuchel in free agency? From there, build around the fringes and you have yourself a team capable of winning the World Series. It's possible, right?
Honestly, I've almost talked myself into it. I'm at least getting closer to being on the fence now.