On Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that Bryce Harper turned down a 10 year, $300 million contract extension at the end of the season. Now it is possible both sides could come to an agreement and Harper stays in Washington, but on the offside he doesn’t, the Nationals will save approximately $30 million for the upcoming season. With glaring holes at second base and catcher, as well as the bullpen and the back of the rotation, this money could go a long way to help lead the Nationals back to the playoffs. Here is a look at a few free agents the Nationals should consider signing if they lose Bryce Harper.
The former Cy Young winner and four-time gold glove winner may be on his way out of Houston. He was finally healthy after missing time in 2016 and 2017. Keuchel finished the 2018 season 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA, 153 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP. He was nowhere near his 2015 form when he won the Cy Young, but Keuchel was solid in the number three spot this year. During the postseason Keuchel faced the Red Sox twice, both starts ending in no-decisions. In both starts, Keuchel went five innings and gave up two runs, contributing two stable outings against the best offense in the league.
Keuchel would fit great behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals rotation. If Strasburg would continue to miss time due to injuries as he usually does, then the Nationals would still have two aces. Keuchel’s strikeout rate has decreased since 2015 and opponents contact against him has increased. But at the same time, Keuchel has kept the ball in the ballpark as opposing hitters are still barely homering against him. With his injury problem hopefully behind him, Keuchel would be a great number three pitcher in the rotation. He is only 30 years old and would benefit the team as he has pitched deep into the postseason the past two years. A change of leagues might be exactly what Keuchel would need to return to his former self.
The matchup makes sense as Tanner Roark has struggled the past two years and the team lost Gio Gonzalez to a trade. Jeremy Hellickson is a free agent and Joe Ross is coming off of multiple injuries. Washington still has the talent to return to the playoffs and Keuchel would make for a great middle of the rotation guy.
Grandal is the best catcher on the free agency market this year and is projected to sign a lucrative deal. He is one of the best pitch framers in the game but still struggles with past balls as seen in this year’s NLCS. The Dodgers offered Grandal the $17.9 million qualifying offer. It is expected that Grandal will reject it and test out the open market.
Catcher is the Nationals main weakness as Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino and Spence Kieboom are not cutting it. Wieters hit .238 this season but only played in 78 games due to injuries. Severino and Kieboom filled in for the injured Wieters and hit .168 and .232 respectively. To put it in perspective, the three had a combined 117 hits while Juan Soto had 121. An upgrade is needed and Grandal could be the missing piece since Wilson Ramos left. Grandal’s pitch framing would be needed as the team struggled at times to strikeout opposing batters when Scherzer, Strasburg and Doolittle were not on the mound. Since 2012, Grandal is second in catchers OPS with a .778. The only catcher in front of him during that stretch is Buster Posey. Grandal has failed to perform in the postseason but a change of scenery might be exactly what he needs to redeem himself.
Washington traded second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and promoted Wilmer Difo to be the full-time starter. Difo excelled in the field, but his bat went quiet for the most part. In 148 games, he hit .230 with 42 RBIs. Management was hoping Difo would make the leap from 2017 when he had to fill in due to injuries and hit .271 in 124 games. Instead, he regressed and the front office is now looking for a replacement.
The answer is Jed Lowrie who helped lead the Oakland Athletics to a surprise AL Wildcard spot. The 35-year old hit .267 with 23 home runs and 99 RBI’s. While Lowrie would be a step down in the field from Difo, his bat would be a welcomed addition. Lowrie brings some power that has been missing. The veteran has spent time at all four infield positions and can help out wherever if injuries strike. Lowrie is the most consistent second baseman free agent. D.J. Lemahieu’s bat has decreased and playing away from Coors field will not help. Brian Dozier has regressed immensely from his 2017 campaign. He was traded and a change of scenery in LA did not work out. Lowrie has been consistent despite being on the wrong side of 30. His veteran leadership would help the team try to reclaim their spot atop the NL East.
Andrew Miller was one of the best relief pitchers from 2014-2017. This past year he suffered due to multiple injuries. Cleveland has multiple free agents and will not be able to sign many which is why Miller will be on a new team next year. In 2017 Cody Allen became the teams closer and Miller was moved to the seventh and eighth innings. He posted a 1.44 ERA with 95 strikeouts and 27 holds. This past year his numbers decreased due to his multiple trips to the DL. Miller had a 4.24 era with 45 strikeouts and ten holds.
Washington could surely use his help. Miller changed the way relief pitchers were used in the 2016 playoffs as he closed games, pitched the middle innings, and performed multiple-inning saves. His presence would be welcomed in Washington where they have had bullpen troubles for the past few years. Miller would not close as the team already has Sean Doolittle and recently signed Trevor Rosenthal. Miller is no stranger to pitching multiple innings and could become the new 7th to 8th inning guy that Washington has been missing. The team would be hoping he can overcome his injury-plagued season and return to his prior self. A one year prove it deal would make the most sense to gauge what Miller has left in the tank. He is 33 years old and has plenty of milleage but it is not wise to bet against him.
“From Our Haus to Yours”