The Nationals had interest in switch-hitter Justin Smoak before Smoak signed with the Brewers last week, The Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty reports. With Smoak off the board, the Nats will continue to explore left-handed hitting options for both first base and their lineup as a whole, given their overall right-handed tilt. As Dougherty notes, it’s quite possible that the Nationals bring back Matt Adams as that lefty bat, and Adams will again team with Howie Kendrick and (the still-to-be-signed) Ryan Zimmerman in a timeshare at first base.
Kendrick is already back in the fold, rejoining the World Series champions on a one-year deal worth $6.25MM in guaranteed money ($4MM in 2020 salary, and either a $2.25MM buyout of a mutual option for 2021, or $6.5MM in 2021 if both sides exercise that option). The versatile Kendrick spent the majority of his time as a first baseman in 2019, though he also saw action at both second base and third base. Those other two infield positions are now in a state of flux, what with Anthony Rendon gone to the Angels and Brian Dozier and Asdrubal Cabrera currently free agents, so Washington could prefer to deploy Kendrick around the infield rather than commit him to a larger portion of the first base playing time.
Zimmerman, of course, is a free agent himself, though the longtime District stalwart has indicated that he will either return to the Nationals on a year-to-year basis or potentially retire. “Both he and the Nationals remain willing to negotiate a cheap, one-year contract,” Dougherty writes, and “about $4MM has been floated as a price the sides could agree on.”
It seems to be more or less just a matter of time before Zimmerman officially returns to the fold for his 16th season in a Nats jersey, and his presence likely indicates that D.C. will stick with a platoon situation at first base. The club “ultimately decided that the price was too high” for Smoak, whose one-year deal with Milwaukee is worth $5MM in guaranteed money. It wasn’t a hefty figure, though perhaps too much for a Nationals team that is looking for a platoon partner rather than more of a full-time option like Smoak.
Eric Thames, Mitch Moreland, Greg Bird, Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, and Neil Walker are a few of the left-handed or switch-hitting first base options on the open market, though Adams represents a known quantity for the Nats. Over 610 plate appearances since joining the Nationals in August 2018, Adams has hit 38 homers with a .240/.302/.485 slash line. Long a force against right-handed pitching, Adams’ numbers against righties dipped in everything but the slugging department last season, though Dougherty said that Adams was bothered with some shoulder problems. Washington declined its end of Adams’ $4MM mutual option for 2020, making the 31-year-old into a free agent.
If the Nationals can find a power bat at another position, Dougherty writes that the team could simply just go with Zimmerman and Kendrick as the all right-handed first base platoon, given Kendrick’s solid numbers against same-sided pitching. The Nats continue to be one of the favorites to land Josh Donaldson as their new everyday third baseman, and, should Donaldson sign elsewhere, there have also been whispers that D.C. could try to acquire Kris Bryant from the Cubs. Both Donaldson and Bryant are also right-handed bats, though with either of them playing third base, the Nationals could then explore adding a multi-positional left-handed bench bat, or one that could share time at second base with rookie Carter Kieboom or the switch-hitting Wilmer Difo.