The Nationals are exploring their options on the infield market, as MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reports (Twitter links) that Washington has interest in free agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. While it can be assumed that the Nats are looking at both big names and smaller names, the fact that they’re open to adding higher-salaried players such as LeMahieu and Bryant gives us some hints about the team’s spending capability this offseason.
LeMahieu would be the more expensive of the two, of course, as he is projected to land a lucrative multi-year deal in free agency (MLBTR has him projected for four years and $68MM). The Nats would also have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500K in international bonus pool money to sign LeMahieu, since he rejected the Yankees’ qualifying offer.
This all being said, the Nationals haven’t shied away from making big additions in free agency in the past, and Morosi notes that the Nats also had interest in LeMahieu the last time he was a free agent back in the 2018-19 offseason. (Washington instead signed Brian Dozier to a one-year, $9MM deal to handle second base, a deal the Nats probably don’t regret considering they won the 2019 World Series.) Though players like Juan Soto and Trea Turner will continue to get expensive through arbitration, the Nationals have quite a bit of money coming off the books after 2021, so LeMahieu wouldn’t put much of an extra burden on the payroll.
Bryant would be a shorter-term add, since he is only under contract through the 2021 season before hitting free agency himself. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Bryant to earn $18.6MM in his final year of arbitration, so while the former NL MVP isn’t inexpensive, some of that salary could be covered by whatever the Nationals would send back to the Cubs in a trade. For what it’s worth, Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, whose solid working relationship with the Lerner family is well-documented; on the current Nationals roster alone, Soto, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Seth Romero are all Boras clients.
Chicago is reportedly open to moving just about any of its higher-priced veterans, though Bryant is something of a tricky trade candidate considering he hit only .206/.293/.351 in 147 plate appearances during an injury-plagued 2020 season. That down year will surely factor into what the Nationals or any other team would be willing to give up in a trade, yet the Cubs obviously also don’t want to sell low on a former All-Star (unless forced into such a move due to payroll constraints). Signing LeMahieu is more expensive but also carries fewer question marks, plus Washington wouldn’t have to give up any young talent in a trade to land LeMahieu.
Looking at the Nats’ roster, either LeMahieu or Bryant would help an infield that is pretty unsettled beyond Turner at shortstop. First base is wide open, Starlin Castro will play every day at either second base or third base, Carter Kieboom will look to break out after a tough rookie season, plus Luis Garcia and the re-signed Josh Harrison provide depth. LeMahieu would slot right into an everyday role, probably at second base, but Washington could move him around to see action at both first and third base depending on situations or how players like Kieboom or Garcia develop. Bryant has some similar versatility, as he would likely play mostly at third base, but could also be shifted to first base or a corner outfield spot.