Washington Nationals


A generational talent like Bryce Harper is one that any franchise would hate to see walk away, especially at the ripe young age of 26. The Nationals were no exception, reportedly offering their first overall pick in the 2010 draft a 10-year, $300 million offer late last season. Harper rejected the proposal and opted for free agency, where he remains unsigned in what has been a historically tepid offseason.
Losing a star of that magnitude might set a team back, especially following an underwhelming 82-80 finish, but Washington's aggressiveness this winter has them positioned as the early favorites in a stacked NL East even without Harper in the mix.
What's New
Despite interest from other deep-pocketed clubs like the Yankees, who presumably had an advantage to sign the New York native, Washington went the extra mile financially and landed coveted left-hander Patrick Corbin with a six-year, $140 million deal. The 29-year-old was a 4.6 WAR player in '18, wrapping up his best season to date with 246 strikeouts over 200 innings to go along with a 2.47 FIP.

The Nats also inked right-hander Anibal Sanchez to a two-year, $19 million pact in late December, hoping he can build upon a renaissance season with division-rival Atlanta last year in which the 13-year veteran pitched to a 2.83 ERA in 25 appearances. Last week's re-signing of righty Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 3.45 ERA in 19 starts) softens the blow of losing Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez and rounds out a deep rotation that can match up with baseball's best, as mainstays Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lead the pack.
The addition of right-handers Kyle Barraclough (via trade with Miami) and Trevor Rosenthal (1 year, $7 million deal) reinforce a bullpen that struggled at times last year, ranking eighth in the NL with a 4.05 ERA.
On the position player side, Brian Dozier takes over the everyday role at second base after signing a one-year, $9 million contract last month. The typically reliable slugger is coming off a down year split between Minnesota and the Dodgers (.215/.305/.391) but has clubbed 148 home runs over the past five seasons and a return to form could make Dozier a huge bargain for GM Mike Rizzo and team.
The catching situation is interesting, as the club acquired two long-time backstops both accustomed to playing regularly with their previous clubs. Veterans Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes will share the role, giving second-year skipper Dave Martinez a luxury most teams don't have.
After being plucked off waivers by the Cardinals in late August, hulking first baseman Matt Adams is back on a one-year, $4 million deal and will likely serve as the team's primary pinch-hitter as well as Ryan Zimmerman's backup.
What Could Change
For the most part, the Nats' roster appears set at this point. Rizzo hasn't completely ruled out a reunion with Harper, although the team currently ranks among the majors' biggest spenders in terms of payroll commitments for the upcoming season. There's a great deal of depth on the 40-man as it stands, but a wealth of free agent arms still looking for jobs could lead to another bullpen addition if the price is right.
What's Coming
If this narrative seems like a broken record, that's because it is. Despite a star-studded roster and significant spending, the club that calls our nation's capital home has never made it past the first round in October. Since moving from Montreal in 2005, Washington has won the NL East four times ('12, '14, '16, '17) and been subsequently knocked out in the Division Series each time.
With that said, the outlook for a Harper-less Washington team is still bright. Left fielder Juan Soto just turned 20 in October after playing 116 big league games, and already has a .292/.406/.517 slash line with 22 homers (including some tape-measure shots) to his name. A 3.0 WAR player who didn't even debut until late May, the Dominican star-in-the-making could crush opposing pitching in his first full season. To his left will be 21-year-old countrymate Victor Robles, Washington's top-ranked prospect who should be a key cornerstone for years to come. Also expect a big season from third baseman Anthony Rendon, entering his walk year after slashing .308/.374/.535 with 24 homers and a league-leading 44 doubles in '18.
Aside from the rebuilding Marlins, the NL East could very well be the best division in the game. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections have the Nationals finishing atop the division with 89 wins, one better than the new-look Mets who have also retooled and look poised to contend. The Phillies have added some key pieces including Jean Segura, David Robertson and most recently star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Although they haven't been as active, the Braves did win the division and their young core has another year of experience under their collective belts. It won't be easy, and these clubs might battle it out up until the season's final days.
Best-Case Scenario: The Nationals win the NL East and advance to the NLCS for the first time behind a healthy starting staff coupled with elite-level production from Soto and Rendon, while Robles is an above average center fielder in his first full season in the bigs.
Worst-Case Scenario: Harper signs a long-term deal with Philadelphia, Strasburg makes less than 20 starts, the rotation newcomers are ineffective and Martinez is let go by August in what amounts to another lost season.
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