The Washington Nationals finished the 2017 season with an impressive 97-65 regular season record while dominating the National League East division. However, another early postseason exit raises more questions than answers once again with the club. Washington has most of its key roster pieces under contract again next season, but with the uncertainty rising about whether star outfielder Bryce Harper stays or walks away from the team after the 2018 season, the Nationals must retool to make their most aggressive run toward the franchise’s first World Series appearance. The team does have a few needs this off-season the club must address in order to find success. Catcher, left field, starting pitching, and the bullpen could use some upgrades and depth. With those thoughts in mind, these five free agents have to be among the top choices for the Nationals to make:
Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta:
Arrieta’s career was turned around when he joined the Chicago Cubs in 2013 when he was traded by fellow Beltway club, the Baltimore Orioles. He won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award after a dominant season in Chicago, when he posted a 1.77 ERA while going 22-6 in 33 starts. Arrieta’s statistics have fallen off in each of the past two seasons, going 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA over 30 starts during 2017. Despite his age climbing, he will turn 31 during 2018, a change of scenery could be all Arrieta needs to regain his dominance again. Imagine a starting rotation in 2018 for Washington in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Arrieta after the team already had the best starting pitching staff in the National League last season. The pressure would be taken off Arrieta and allow him to perform at his best in this scenario.
Relief pitcher Wade Davis:
A teammate of Arrieta in Chicago last season, Davis was among the best closers once again in baseball during 2017 while posting a 2.30 ERA and a career-high 32 saves for the Cubs. Davis has plenty of postseason experience as well, winning the World Series back in 2015 as a member of the Kansas City Royals, which is something Washington could really need for a deep run into October. While Washington’s bullpen has struggled a lot over recent years, the team had the best bullpen in the second half of the season during 2017 after acquiring relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland A’s along with picking up reliever Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins. Kintzler is a free agent this off-season and is due for a big payday, something Washington does not want to do since he won’t be the team’s closer. Picking up Davis could be the difference and make the Nationals the most dangerous team in 2018 to sure up their back end of the bullpen to close out games.
Catcher Welington Castillo:
Castillo had a career-year when the Baltimore Orioles in 2017, hitting 20 home runs and a career-best slash line of .282/.323/.490 in only 96 games. Castillo is also a good pitch framer, something current Washington catcher Matt Wieters struggled with last season. Castillo had a slow start to his career, which could stray most teams away from signing him to the amount he may want. Castillo could come to Washington on a one-year prove yourself deal before possibly signing him to a longer extension based on his performance. Castillo would be a upgrade from Wieters both offensively and defensively, providing some much-needed depth behind the dish.
Outfielder Jon Jay:
Yet another Cub player from last season, Jay would play a similar role to what Howie Kendrick played for the Nationals during 2017 in providing depth in the outfield and a dependable hitter who can get on base a lot. Jay was reliable for Chicago during 2017, playing in 141 games and posting a career-high .374 on-base percentage. Jay would provide a defensive upgrade from Kendrick as well, with more experience and range playing corner outfield positions. Jay would most likely be a part of a platoon to replace Jayson Werth in left field, who is unlikely to be resigned by the Nationals. Washington needs depth in the outfield after seeing injuries to Harper, Werth, Adam Eaton, and Michael Taylor during 2017. Jay could be a great option for outfield depth with a lower salary if he can perform up to his statistics last season.
Starting pitcher Alex Cobb:
Although he missed almost two full seasons from Tommy John surgery, Cobb bounced back to have a really good season during 2017 with the Tampa Bay Rays. He posted a 3.66 ERA while going 12-10 in 29 starts. Cobb is an innings-eater and would be a similar option for the Nationals as they had in Tanner Roark the past couple of seasons. Washington really needs to upgrade the bottom of their rotation with uncertainty around Roark’s shaky 2017 performance and Joe Ross recovering from Tommy John surgery. Cobb is a little bit of a risky choice, but could really help the back end of the Nationals starting rotation if he can stay healthy.
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