The Nationals haven’t made many notable acquisitions this offseason. They signed middle reliever Dylan Floro and former top prospect Nick Senzel to affordable one-year pacts and plucked infielder Nasim Nuñez from the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft. It’s not all that surprising that a still-rebuilding Washington team coming off a 71-91 showing hasn’t been aggressive, but GM Mike Rizzo had suggested at the Winter Meetings the team was open to a multi-year free agent pickup “in the right situation” (link via Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com).
With all of $4.25MM in free agent spending committed to Floro and Senzel, there should still be financial room at Rizzo’s disposal. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll hand out any kind of significant deal, particularly with a lack of great options in the middle tiers of free agency. Yet it’d be a surprise if the Nationals were finished with their offseason activity. One area where some kind of addition seems likely: a left-handed bat.
Both the Talk Nats blog and MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato suggested in late December that Washington was looking to bring in left-handed power. The Nats’ best lefty or switch-hitting bats — CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Luis García and Jake Alu — all have middling pop. Only the Guardians had a lower ISO (slugging minus batting average) against right-handed pitching in 2023. Acquiring a lefty power source makes plenty of sense.
It’s hard to see Washington spending at the level it’d take to land Cody Bellinger. Even though he’s young enough to be a veteran cornerstone for a team that could more realistically seek to compete by 2025, the Nationals have a pair of top center field prospects in James Wood and Dylan Crews. They’re also still faced with the MASN rights uncertainty and on the hook for significant money to Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer’s deferrals in the short term. It’s probably not the right time for a top-of-the-market splash.
We’ll look a few tiers down. Where might that search lead Rizzo and company?
- Brandon Belt: Belt, even going into his age-36 season, should command the loftiest guarantee of the players in this group. He’s coming off a very strong offensive showing for the Blue Jays. He hit 19 homers and walked more than 15% of the time he stepped to the plate, leading to a .254/.369/.490 line through 404 plate appearances. Favorable matchups played a role in that strong rate production; Toronto limited him to 39 PA’s against left-handed pitching. Washington could deploy him similarly at designated hitter and/or first base, where only Joey Meneses (coming off a league average offensive showing) stands in the way.
- Joc Pederson: The Blue Jays are the only club publicly tied to Pederson this winter. He’s coming off a middling season in which he hit .235/.348/.416 with 15 homers through 425 plate appearances for the Giants. That’s not huge power production at first glance, but Pederson has five 20+ homer seasons on his résumé (four with at least 25 longballs). He made hard contact — an exit velocity of at least 95 MPH — on more than half his batted balls last season, a top 15 rate in the majors. Pederson is a limited player. He’s best served as a DH and is mostly limited to facing right-handed pitching. He still has life in the bat, though, even if last year’s results were underwhelming.
- Eddie Rosario: There hasn’t been any public chatter on Rosario since the Braves declined a $9MM option at the start of the offseason. He should command a one-year deal at a salary that’s not too far below that rate. Rosario is coming off a reasonably effective year. He hit 21 homers with a .255/.305/.450 line in 516 trips to the plate. That was the fourth time in his career that he surpassed 20 longballs. Rosario is mostly limited to left field but rated reasonably well with the glove last year. His performance varies wildly within seasons, but he tends to produce roughly league average numbers by the end.
- Joey Gallo: Gallo hit 21 homers in just 332 plate appearances a season ago. The flaw in his game, huge swing-and-miss rates, has only magnified in recent seasons. Gallo hasn’t hit above the Mendoza line since 2019. He’s hitting .168 with a .290 on-base percentage in 742 plate appearances over the last two campaigns. There are a lot of uncompetitive at-bats. Few players fit the profile of a “left-handed power bat” quite like Gallo, though.
It’s tougher to identify great fits on the trade market in the absence of many clear rebuilding teams. The Nationals could theoretically take a bigger swing at a player with an extended control window (e.g. Alec Burleson, Jesús Sánchez). That’s not an easy task to pull off, particularly since Washington is probably reluctant to part with significant prospect talent. There are a few veteran bats who’d make some sense as speculative trade candidates for a lesser return.
- Josh Bell: Bell had a productive stint over his year and a half in Washington from 2021-22. He hit .278/.363/.483 in just over 1000 plate appearances before being included in the Juan Soto trade. Bell has changed uniforms twice more since that deadline blockbuster, signing with the Guardians before being flipped to the Marlins last summer. The switch-hitting first baseman struggled in Cleveland (.233/.318/.383) but generally turned things around in South Florida (.270/.338/.480). That reasonably strong finish wasn’t enough for Bell to forego a $16.5MM player option for the upcoming season. It stands to reason the Fish would be happy to get out from under the bulk of that deal if the Nationals were interested in a reunion.
- Seth Brown: A’s GM David Forst indicated at the beginning of the offseason that he didn’t expect to trade Brown. That’s presumably more about Oakland feeling that other teams won’t meet their ask than an indication they wouldn’t consider offers on a 31-year-old platoon player. Brown is a career .237/.305/.471 hitter against right-handed pitching. He can play first base or the corner outfield and is under arbitration control for three seasons. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz forecasts him for a $2.4MM salary.
- Mike Yastrzemski: Yastrzemski is projected for a $7.3MM salary in his second-to-last arbitration season. He hit 15 homers in 381 plate appearances a year ago, running a .233/.330/.445 line overall. The Giants aren’t likely to urgently shop Yastrzemski, but the singing of Jung Hoo Lee pushes him from center field to the corner opposite Michael Conforto. Trading Mitch Haniger paved the way for a Lee, Conforto, Yastrzemski outfield supplemented by righty-hitting Austin Slater, but the Giants also have Luis Matos, Wade Meckler and Heliot Ramos as options on the grass.
Minor League Deal Candidates
Each of these players has turned in above-average offense from the left side in their careers. None hit free agency under great circumstances. Choi had an injury-plagued 2023 campaign that kept him to 39 games without much production. The other four players were either non-tendered or elected free agency after an outright.
Meadows has missed most of the past two seasons attending to anxiety; it is unclear if he’ll be in position to return next year. Ford and Vogelbach are largely limited to DH, while Walsh hasn’t been the same since he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome in 2022. None of these players are likely to be Washington’s top acquisition, but they’d be viable depth targets if the Nats wanted a second lefty bat on a minor league or low-cost MLB pact.