The Nationals fell short of all of baseball’s preseason predictions and our expectations. A team that was expected to win the pennant failed to win their division or even make the post season. We’ve beaten to death the reasons that this team crashed and burned like it did but the good news is that much of the core that made us so optimistic about this team is returning for 2016 and the Nationals have room to make some major acquisitions. This is a long post so it’s broken up into 2 parts. This is part 2, the hitters. I bolded potential acquisitions and wrote a summary at the bottom.
Offense: Bryce Harper absolutely ran this world in 2014 but the team has got a good deal of holes behind the phenom. Ryan Zimmerman, Clint Robinson, and Ty Moore should be able to put together average or slightly below production at 1st while I have no qualms about Yunel Escobar being backed up by Danny Espinosa at 2nd. Ian Desmond left the team in free agency this year but top prospect Trea Turner should impress with his speed, hit tool, and above average defense at shortstop in 2016. Anthony Rendon will hopefully be healthy all season and put together a season like his great .287/.351/.473 2013 at the hot corner. And, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth should be two of the three opening day starters in the outfield.
At catcher, I am as big a Wilson Ramos fan as there is but I really shouldn’t be because he sucks. 2015 was just the 1st time that Ramos played 100 games and I’m not sure how much worse off the team would’ve been if he just didn’t show up. Ramos’s OBP fell for the 4th straight year and the .258 mark that he ended the season with was dead last in baseball. A team isn’t going to win the World series when its starting catcher gets on base just 1/4 of the time and the free agent market for catchers is weak which is why the Nationals need to make a trade, and a big one at that. The Nationals should trade pitching prospect Reynaldo Lopez (ranked 49th by Baseball America entering 2014), Outfield prospect Victor Robles, infielder Wilmer Difo, and Catching prospect Pedro Severino for C Jonathan Lucroy. For anyone who has followed Victor Robles or who believes that Reynaldo Lopez is a starter, this package may seem like an awful lot to swallow but Lucroy is signed for 2016 and ’17 at just 9.25 million TOTAL and is one of the best two catchers in the MLB. Lucroy is an excellent pitch framer who could really keep the Nationals pitchers on track and his offensive skills are nothing to sneeze at either. Adding Lucroy, 29, to a lineup with Harper and Rendon will give the Nats a great young offensive core that will carry them into the playoffs.
What the Nationals Would Give Up For Lucroy: The Nats do give up a lot in this trade and while Reynaldo Lopez is a great pitching prospect and has the potential to be a #3 starter, some writers like ESPN’s Keith Law envision him in more of a ‘pen role in which case the Nationals would be selling high now. Victor Robles is a future super-star, plain and simple. He hit a combined .352/.445/.507 with 4 homers and 24 steals in leagues where the average player is 20 or 21 (he is just 18) and I would hate to see him be traded but while trying to consider trade offers that work for both sides, I conceded that either Robles or Lucas Giolito would have to be included for the Brewers to accept and Lucroy deal and Robles is the more likely to go. Wilmer Difo is a solid young infield talent and the switch-hitter’s advanced hit tool would be an immediate upgrade for the Brewers at 2nd base over Scooter Gennett. Finally, Pedro Severino will be the Brewers’ replacement for Lucroy; Severino is a defense-first catcher who appeared in 2 MLB games late in September. Severino will develop into an above-average starting catcher with 10 homer power and a .320 OBP in the long term.
The Outfield: I love what Michael A Taylor can become and think that he ultimately will develop into a great Major League outfielder, I just don’t know if he is the guy you want starting in center on opening day 2016. Fortunately, the free agent market is packed with quality Outfielders and it sounds like Yasiel Puig is available. The most appealing options include Puig and fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon and fellow former Royal Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton. I don’t see the Nats giving up a ton for Puig (and find it even less likely if they trade for Lucroy) and I just don’t really see either of the Cubans as real great fits. Ben Zobrist is one of the most underrated players in the game but he’s getting up there in age (34) and a lot of what you pay for with him is his versatility which is more of an unnecessary luxury for the Nationals – he’s probably a better fit elsewhere. Jason Heyward is probably just too expensive for the Nationals but, if they somehow sign him, I’ll be ecstatic.
Both Alex Gordon and Justin Upton rejected qualifying offers meaning that if the Nats sign either, they’ll lose a draft pick but that pick may be a tiny price to pay if either slugger comes as advertised. Gordon, 31, was selected 2nd overall in the 2005 draft (behind Justin Upton) and has transformed from ‘bust’ from 2007-2010 into a star who plays hard with great defense, phenomenal On Base Percentages, good power, and some speed. It is also worth noting that Gordon is a left-handed batter and GM Mike Rizzo recently said that he’s on the lookout for a lefty to balance out the team’s lineup. A deal of around 4 years, 75 million with a vesting option for a 5th year at 20 mil should work for both sides and set the Nationals up with a formidable lineup. Right-handed hitting Justin Upton is younger than Gordon and will command more years and more dollars but probably isn’t the better talent. Justin Upton averages 26 homers a year with a .352 career on-base and should ultimately receive a deal in the range of 7 years and 140-150 million dollars. If given the option of Gordon or Upton at the prices I just mentioned, I sign Gordon 10 times out of 10.
The Nationals lineup is mostly set but Wilson Ramos should not be the team’s starting catcher and the Nationals might be best served using Michael A Taylor off the bench in 2016. I propose a trade of prospects P Reynaldo Lopez, OF Victor Robles, INF Wilmer Difo, and C Pedro Severino to the Milwaukee Brewers for star backstop, Jonathan Lucroy.
I view Alex Gordon or Justin Upton as the most likely of the major outfield free agents to sign in DC and like either but would prefer a Gordon acquisition.