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The Nats Report's Free Agency Wishlist
With free agency beginning, our writers each took a look at someone they wish the Nationals will sign.
Free agency started, and the stove is still cold, but each of our writers took a look at a free agent that we hope the Nationals will sign this offseason.
Given his rough 2023 season for not one, not two, but three different franchises, one might think that the case for pursuing free agent Lucas Giolito boils down entirely to the Nats' familiarity with him dating back to drafting him in the first round in 2012. However, given that Mike Rizzo is unlikely to have a huge budget to play with, there is underlying data to suggest that Giolito might be an excellent under-the-radar signing to bolster the Nats' rotation in 2024 and possibly beyond. At worst, he appears due for some positive regression, especially since he is on the young side for a free agent (he turned 29 on Bastille Day - Liberté, Egalité, Giolité).
Let’s start with the numbers. On the positive side, Giolito made 33 starts this past season and threw a career-high 184.1 innings (he has been healthy in every season since 2018, by the way), striking out ten per nine (204 Ks) along the way. He also finished the year with a 70th percentile whiff percentage and 84th percentile extension. Those are all good things! Unfortunately, he also gave up a career-high 41 bombs (leading the AL) and walked more batters (73) than he had in the previous four seasons. He got hit hard often, especially his fastball (8th percentile barrel rate, 17th percentile fastball run value).
What does this all mean? Those 41 home runs are a full fifty percent more than he had ever allowed before, which doesn’t seem repeatable (just moving from Guaranteed Rate Field to Nationals Park would help, although that might be mitigated by four starts against the Braves). Twenty-one of those homers came after his trade to Anaheim (and later waiver claim by Cleveland), suggesting that he tired down the stretch, but he also didn’t miss a single start, and his average fastball velocity was better in 2023 than in 2022. Perhaps he was tipping his pitches? Either way, the issues appear to be fixable.
The main reason that I would bet on Giolito bouncing back is psychological. Not only did he spend the first five months of the season in arguably the two most dysfunctional clubhouses in the sport, he went through a divorce, which, amicable or not, is never easy. There were major distractions at work and even bigger distractions at home, so wherever he signs, a sense of normalcy and stability can only help. Why not offer him that with a familiar organization, even if almost all of the key faces have changed since he (and platonic life partner Reynaldo López) left in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016? His biggest skill thus far has been his durability, which happens to be the thing that the Nationals need most from a starting pitcher in 2024. If he’s just league-average, a pillow contract would be a win for both sides. If he’s better than that, Giolito could be a major asset for the Nats next year. -Olysses S. Grant
The Nationals’ relief staff ranked 27th in ERA in 2023. While the current group has the potential to be a serviceable group, they could also repeat last year’s performance. An easy way to fix that is by adding a high-leverage arm that raises the team’s floor. So why not bring back a familiar face Reynaldo López?
As a starter, López was at best a fifth or sixth in the rotation arm on a contender, with a 4.73 ERA over 515 and 1/3 innings. Since transitioning to the bullpen in 2021, López has a 3.01 ERA over 164 and 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate ticked up, he walked fewer batters and allowed fewer home runs. The peripherals back up the success he has on the field. FanGraphs’s crowdsourcing has López earning $13.3M over two seasons, but their writer Ben Clemens and MLB Trade Rumors have him getting three years and somewhere between $27M and $30M. -Haden Raymer
One super under-the-radar free agent I've got my eye on is switch-hitting shortstop Adalberto Mondesí. The son of 1994 National League Rookie of the Year Raúl Mondesí, Adalberto debuted in the 2015 World Series. His first couple years in the majors were rough, but he broke out in 2018 with a 115 OPS+ over 291 plate appearances while posting respectable defensive numbers at shortstop. He became the team's primary shortstop in 2019, starting 99 games, and graded favorably in every advanced defensive metric.
Since leading the American League in stolen bases (24) in the shortened 2020 season, however, Mondesí has struggled to stay on the field, playing just 50 games from 2021 to 2022 as he battled a variety of injuries. The Red Sox traded for him in January of 2023, hoping to find someone to serve as a temporary stand-in for Xander Bogaerts. However, as winter turned into spring turned into summer and Mondesí was still recovering from a 2022 ACL tear, he was shut down once in June and again in August and did not appear in a game for Boston once in 2023.
So why, after all these things, do I think Adalberto Mondesí might be a good candidate? When he's right, La Guinea is a dynamic threat both in the field and at the plate. He hits the ball hard, he runs well, and his glove is slick. Luis García's tough 2023 showed that his future with the organization is no longer certain, and trade of García would open space at second base for Mondesí to find playing time. A potential power/speed threat, plus a defensive upgrade at an up-the-middle infield position, could provide the Nationals a first-half boost and potentially a solid trade return at the deadline. With how many question marks there are surrounding Mondesí's health, it's tough to predict what kind of player he's going to be after last getting any consistent playing time almost four years ago, but the risk is minimal--it's hard to imagine Adalberto signing with anyone for more than a couple million if he signs a major league deal at all. In my opinion, everything lines up for a low-risk, high-reward signing. -JJ
During the thrilling frenzy of free agency, one player who has caught the attention of numerous teams is the impressive and skilled Yariel Rodriguez. At the youthful age of 26, this right-handed prodigy has become the subject of intense admiration. Among the teams vying for his services, we find the Washington Nationals, who are fervently seeking to bolster their bullpen with a formidable addition.
The Nationals may have been one of the many teams observing Rodriguez's remarkable performance in the 2022 season, where he showcased his pitching prowess as a reliever for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. With an exceptional 1.15 ERA and an impressive 60:18 K:BB ratio over 54.2 innings, Rodriguez left a lasting impression on fans and experts alike. One remarkable aspect of his game was his ability to strike out opponents at a staggering rate of 27.5% while maintaining a relatively low walk rate of 8.3%.
However, it is intriguing that Rodriguez encountered a unique situation in 2023. Due to his decision to defect to the Dominican Republic, he did not have the opportunity to display his skills on the mound. Nevertheless, his final accolade from his time in Japan was his impeccable record of not surrendering a single home run, solidifying his reputation as a formidable force on the pitcher's mound.
With such an impressive resume and a multitude of teams vying for his signature, it is no wonder that Rodriguez has piqued the interest of the Washington Nationals. As they analyze his statistics and reflect upon his extraordinary 2022 season, it becomes apparent that he would seamlessly integrate into the Nationals' rotation, whether as a starter or a valuable asset in the bullpen. -Henry Basilica
The 2023 Nationals were lacking in a lot of key categories, especially offensively, but the one metric that jumps out to me on paper is the lack of power displayed on last year’s team. Looking at the free agent pool, there aren’t many better pure power guys out there than Jorge Soler.
Soler is coming off a bounce-back campaign and can add instant power to any lineup. Enough pop to be named World Series MVP just a few seasons ago and a season in which he was top 20 in the league in slugging percentage. Adding a bat like his could help bring a whole new dimension to this team that was sorely missed last year. -Jeremy Lapidus
Now that Dominic Smith will not be returning to the Nationals in 2024, the Nationals need a solid first baseman, and that is where Rhys Hoskins would be a perfect fit.
Hoskins, who helped bridge the Philadelphia Phillies from a rebuilding team to a World Series contender, hit six home runs during the 2022 playoffs.
Hoskins didn’t play for the Phillies at all in 2023. Presumably, he’s healthy for 2024. While his defense isn’t the best, however, Hoskins can hit. In 2022, he appeared in 156 games and had 672 plate appearances. He had a batting average of .246, an OPS of .794, and a slugging percentage of .462, with 30 home runs, 79 RBI, and 145 hits. The one knock on Hoskins is his defense.
Hoskins had a -14.6 ranking by Fangraphs. Of 18 qualified first basemen in MLB in 2022, that ranked 16th.
MLB Trade Rumors say he could get a two-year, $36 million deal. It’s been noted that MLBTR’s estimates this year have been quite high, perhaps an overcorrection for being very low a year ago. If the Nationals could sign him on a one-year prove-it deal, he could be a perfect bridge in the future and provide some much-needed veteran presence in the locker room. Why not?
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