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Do the Nats need another left-handed bat?

Dec 9, 2015, 9:46 AM EDT

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NASHVILLE — The Nationals’ pursuit of Ben Zobrist wasn’t lip service. They made a serious run at the veteran free agent, so much so that one source familiar with the process said they actually offered more money than the $56 million he wound up taking from the Cubs last night.

That said, the Nationals didn’t desperately need to acquire Zobrist. They have no shortage of viable candidates to fill out their infield. And they have two quite established corner outfielders who aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future.

One question, however, does remain: Do the Nationals really need another bat in their lineup, particularly a left-handed one?

Bryce Harper made it clear on the season’s final day he believes so.

“The one thing we definitely need is another left-handed bat, and hopefully a huge right-handed bat to hit behind me or in front of me,” Harper said. “If we can do that, that would definitely help us out and put us up to the top.”

The “huge right-handed bat to hit behind me or in front of me” Harper alluded to is already on the roster. Actually, the Nationals have one right-handed bat to hit in front of him (Anthony Rendon) and another to hit behind him (Ryan Zimmerman). They just need both guys to stay healthy in 2016.

That left-handed bat, though, remains elusive. As things stand today, there may be only one other left-handed bat in the lineup altogether. Here’s what a projected 2016 lineup looks like at this moment…

LF Jayson Werth (R)
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
CF Michael Taylor (R)
C Wilson Ramos (R)

That is way too right-handed-heavy. And nothing changes in that regard if and when Trea Turner takes over as either the everyday shortstop or second baseman, being right-handed himself.

So there appears to be legitimate reason for the Nationals, after missing out on Zobrist, to pursue another left-handed bat. There aren’t a ton of options that would fit, but here are two potentially intriguing possibilities…

Daniel Murphy: The Mets’ postseason hero was the talk of the baseball world throughout October, but you haven’t heard much about him over the last month. That’s because everybody had Zobrist higher on their wish lists of second basemen. There’s no denying Murphy’s offensive capabilities, though. No, he’s not the Ruthian power hitter he appeared to be for three weeks in October, but he does boast a career .288/.331/.424 slash line that bears some resemblance to Zobrist’s stats. Defensively, he’s poor, and that would be a concern. But his bat certainly would look nice somewhere around the middle of the Nationals’ lineup and would help bring some much-needed balance.

Gerardo Parra: The Nationals were interested in the outfielder over the summer, but the Brewers wound up dealing him to the Orioles instead. Parra struggled in 55 games in Baltimore, hitting a scant .237/.268/.357. But he has established himself as a good hitter over the entirety of his career (.277/.326/.404). He also excels in the field and can play all three outfield positions. His acquisition would give the Nationals four starting-caliber outfielders and would put pressure on Dusty Baker to find playing time for all. But as a left-handed hitter, Parra would be a natural fill-in for either Werth in left field or Taylor in center field.

The markets for Murphy and Parra have yet to heat up, but the expectation around the Winter Meetings all week has been that Zobrist’s signing would start the chain of dominoes. The Nationals may or may not wind up with either guy, but they certainly don’t want to find themselves empty-handed when that final domino does fall.

  1. coolhandbane - Dec 9, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    We will get another lefty starter some where is our lineup. I didnt even realize how right heavy our lineup was until I saw this post.

    I just hope whoever we get, they are decent player.

  2. letsallbaseball - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    What would it take to pry Neil Walker (lefty 2B) and Melancon (reliever) from the Pirates? Both are one year rentals. I saw on twitter Nats were “interested” in Melancon and I read that the Pirates weren’t too hot to pay Walker’s salary this year – I think around $10M.

    I’d imagine the Pirates plan to contend this year, but that’s two needs from one team if the match is there.

    • Jay Cee Bullock - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:01 PM

      It would take more than Rizzo would ever want to give up – I’m starting to wonder if that’s what’s wrong with his trigger finger.

      • letsallbaseball - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:18 PM

        Walker is solid but he’s not a world beater. Plus if salary is part of the issue for the Pirates that has to count as part of the return for them right? Heyman just tweeted that Nats and Mets are interested in him now…

  3. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    Yes, but since the Nats are an NL team it would be nice to find one who can field his position.

  4. veejh - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    Jason Heyward isn’t on this list?

    • virginiascopist - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:16 AM

      Alex Gordon, too. Maybe the list is supposed to be people we could potentially sign for three years or less.

    • sjm308 - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:40 AM

      I heard mlb discuss Heyward this morning and it was not that glowing. For the amount of money that we hear he is looking for I had no idea he had hit just 25HR just once in his career, was a .267 hitter and that his defensive metrics are not as strong as I had thought. To their credit, they did point out that Mike Trout did not have strong defensive metrics either but I just can’t see us having another 200 million dollar contract. Probably why Mark doesn’t have him on this list.

      • texnat1 - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:04 AM

        Yep. No thanks to overpaying for Heyward.

        I think Parra would be a nice pick up. Play him against righties and Taylor against lefties with Werth getting plenty of rest also.

    • langleyclub - Dec 9, 2015 at 10:44 AM

      With the need to sign Harper to a mega-deal, no chance that the Nats are going to pony up the $200 million over 7 years needed to land Heyward (also, Heyward’s offensive production does not justify the money he is seeking). Alex Gordon isn’t a centerfielder, and he also would require a major financial commitment. Nats need a left-handed hitter that can play all 3 OF positions, or/a left-handed hitting middle infielder. Looking like a trade is more likely than a free agent signing.

  5. mauimo22 - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    Or we could save some green and start Espi at 2B, Esco at SS and TBT at 3B. As long as everyone stays healthy that’s a solid lineup with some stellar defense too!

    • langleyclub - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:08 AM

      Escobar has been a poor defensive player over the past couple of seasons, and after showing limited range at 3B last season, there is nothing to indicate that Escobar can play adequate SS at this point.

      • Jay Cee Bullock - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:04 PM

        Maybe limited desire there, too – Escobar rolling his eyes after Storen’s poor throw and then loping after the ball still sticks in my head – the Nationals should trade him to the 1970’s Red Sox.

  6. lphboston - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:10 AM

    What does it say about the Nats if they did offer Zobrist more money and he still stiffed them?

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:15 AM

      It could say multiple things:

      — That he didn’t want to play for the Nats (as you imply);
      — That he really wanted to return to playing under Joe Maddon;
      — That the offers — even if the Nats included a larger total dollar amount — were structured in such a way that he and his agents felt that the Cubs was better for his situation;
      — That the Cubs offered him a better work arrangement (I.e., more of a commitment that he would mostly play 2B, if the rumors are to be believed).

      • letsallbaseball - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:18 AM

        He also got 3 years no trade clause and limited no trade on the fourth. That’s got to count for something.

    • Jay Cee Bullock - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:06 PM

      I’m starting to get the feeling that nothing needs to be said.

  7. natsguy - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:27 AM

    Dusty Baker is the talk of MLB this morning. Wow it was like he was not in touch. I have very bad vibes about this year. Lots of PR FUBARS since July 31st. Hopefully they can get rid of the problems and start to move forward again.

    • trfwans - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:41 AM

      No problem with Dusty’s comments. The last time a black guy said White Men Can’t Jump it made millions at the box office, because it’s the truth. As for Chapman, he’s in America now where you’re innocent until proven guilty. And Dusty will have plenty of time to talk with all the players at the team dinner at Winterfest this weekend. Maybe they’ll have a Friars Club roast of Papelbon before they eat.

    • Dave - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      With respect to the Chapman comment, Howard Bryant of ESPN pointed out on Twitter yesterday that Dusty was very good friends with Darryl Hamilton and spoke at his funeral.

      You may recall that Hamilton was murdered by his girlfriend in an apparent murder-suicide. That is the lens through which Dusty is looking at the Chapman situation.

      The other comments are different, but I’m not going to worry too much about them. I think the Nats have bigger problems to solve right now.

      • Drew - Dec 9, 2015 at 8:17 PM

        Interesting perspective on the Hamilton connection. That helps me understand his initial comments, which seemed out of touch.

  8. Doc - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    I’m looking for a good ST from Van decker—and a continuation of his great run at the end of the season.

    • mauimo22 - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:39 PM

      Yes, me too. The Flying Dutchman!

    • Doc - Dec 9, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      Oops, that should be den Decker. A good player by any other name is still a good player! At least I kept it Dutch. !LOL

  9. hummel26 - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:38 PM

    Heyward may find that this salary explosion won’t apply to him; I heard he wants 300M!!!! No way, no way, no way. I don’t think anyone’s desperate enough to do that. KC and SF have shown what you can do with a LOT of good players, especially in terms of pitching (and defense). Bumgarner may have given folks the impression that one shutdown starter can take you to the title; hence, starters are cleaning up this off-season. KC’s super-pen is making others think that if you can have just one great arm after another for the last three innings, that’s the ticket. And so relievers are getting paid, finally, just not at starter rates. I think the Nats pen really killed them last year; hope what’s happened so far really does turn out to represent an upgrade.

    KC is moving away from the old closer is king mold; I hear that traditional ninth-inning guys are getting their feelings hurt a bit when there’s another ace reliever on the team. That’s what happened to Storen, and apparently Jansen in LA, too (although the Cueto trade got shut down). I think the Nats need one (or two?) more good reliever, that lefty bat (in the outfield), and a really good bench guy.

    • mauimo22 - Dec 9, 2015 at 12:40 PM

      Why don’t we just upgrade our Jansens!

  10. letswin3 - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    There’s another good fielding, Free Agent, lead-off, LH outfielder still available, and he knows how to find the Nat’s clubhouse too. Moreover, he just might be willing to take a pay cut and sign a one-year deal in order to rebuild his declined market value as a FA. How bout it, Denard?

    • langleyclub - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:10 PM

      Very possible that Denard comes back to DC. Given his injury issues, would expect the Nats would prefer to make it a 1 year deal. Nats had a very good record in 2015 when he was in the lineup. Have heard the Cubs are interested. Not sure who else is making inquires.

      Speaking of Nat free agents, have heard nothing about Desi. Any scuttlebutt on who is interested? Wonder if the fact that whomever signs him loses a draft pick to the Nats is having an impact. Will be interesting to compare the deal that the Nats reportedly offered Desi before 2015 ($107 million for 7 years) to the deal that he signs.

      • virginiascopist - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:14 PM

        I will be very interested to see where Desi ends up and for how much/how long. Suffice it to say, it will almost certainly be less than if he had accepted the offer (and I believe the $107 million for seven years was before the 2014 season, not 2015, and would have bought out two years of arbitration). The only teams I have heard his name linked to are the Padres, White Sox and Mets.

      • letsallbaseball - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:23 PM

        On Desi, from Crasnick (not a follower, saw it retweeted)

        Desmond is the most accomplished SS on the market. But he’s getting interest at 2B, 3B and the OF. Very athletic player.

      • tcostant - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:53 PM

        My guess is Desi get 5 years for $75M

    • senators5 - Dec 9, 2015 at 11:57 PM

      I would very much like to have Spann back in CF next year and stay until MAT becomes more aggressive at the plate and stops taking so many damn strikes His backward Ks last year were almost as depressing as Desmond’s number.

  11. Whack-A-Mule - Dec 9, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    In Re: – Denard SPAN

    ESPN would have him in Queens at a Met:
    Per Mark Simon ESPN

    ” Sign Denard Span to platoon in center field with Juan Lagares

    Span would probably have been in for a good-sized payday were it not a combination of injuries (sports hernia, hip labrum) he suffered over the past year. If Span is healthy (and that’s an important thing to be sure of), he’d be a great fit.

    He has a .293/.353/.407 slash line against right-handed pitching, steals bases at a 79 percent success rate (and he was 11-for-11 in 2015) and has a history of playing very good defense (except for last season when he was at minus-10 Defensive Runs Saved). He’s been worth at least 2.0 Wins Above Replacement in six of his eight seasons and averaged 3 WAR per season the past four years. He’s not quite Zobrist, but he’s pretty good (and nearly three years younger). ”

    As “letswin3” notes, Span would be the ideal 3rd/4th outfielder for the Nats .
    (God forbid that he plays for the principal opposition.)

  12. TimDz - Dec 9, 2015 at 2:25 PM

    Apparently, the Nats have made an offer….

    Then, there is this:

    Could the Nats be looking to trade a pitcher…..maybe Gio Gonzalez or Tanner….for Walker if Leake signs?

    • letsallbaseball - Dec 9, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      Mets have discussed Niese in the deal who has options up to 3 years (probably mentioned in your link), Roark could be comparable to that, although less proven. Maybe we can get Melancon in the deal too? A 2 for 2 maybe?

      • letsallbaseball - Dec 9, 2015 at 2:30 PM

        From Rosenthal:

        “Source: #Mets indeed discussing Niese-for-Walker with #Pirates. First: @BiertempfelTrib.”

    • Doc - Dec 9, 2015 at 3:01 PM

      Just looking at the stats I’d have little preference replacing TRoark with Leake.

      As to Joe Cool vs. Leake, the Cool one wins that one hands down. Loved watching him pitch last year.

  13. Drew - Dec 9, 2015 at 8:13 PM

    If it’s true the Rocks are listening on Charlie Blackmon, he’d be an interesting addition. He’s young, he’s got some pop and steals a ton of bases.

    Don’t know about his defense, but the bat plays.





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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