Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and the team’s front office, as a whole, has always possessed a knack for signing and getting production out of veteran players; first baseman Mark Reynolds is the latest example of their ability to do as such.
Back in mid-April, the Nats were struggling. Hovering around the .500 mark, they were at the bottom of the National League East with Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, among others, on the disabled list, and were getting little production from their order as a result. In a move that had many scratching their heads, the Nats agreed to a minor-league deal with Reynolds.
On one hand, they already had Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Adams at first base so they weren’t in dire need of help at the corner infield position. At the same time, Reynolds had a resurgent 2017 season with the Colorado Rockies. Hitting 30 home runs and driving in 97 runs, he was a prominent piece in the Rockies order and with time could potentially be the same for Washington. So far this season, Reynolds has shown that he can be just that.
Once he was sent up from Triple-A in May, it was unclear how big of a role Reynolds would be given with the Nats, but the injury to Zimmerman offered an opportunity for Reynolds to prove himself — and he’s exceeded expectations. Ever since his May 12 debut, Reynolds has flat-out raked. Going into Friday night, the first baseman had blasted six home runs and driven in eight runs, while owning a .341 batting average in 44 at-bats. He’s stepped in, filled the void at first base, and has served as a viable pinch-hitting option off manager Dave Martinez‘s bench. Reynolds’ play has forced Martinez to start him on more of an everyday basis and, as a result, Adams finds himself playing left field on occasion.
Now, is Reynolds going to be apart of the Nats’ future? That’s hard to forecast based on who’s already in place. Once Zimmerman is healthy, the Nats may opt to get him back in the team’s starting lineup — and playing at first base — which could significantly reduce Reynolds’ role, as well as Adams’. But if Martinez decides to go with the flow, he’ll find ways for Reynolds to get involved even when Zimmerman is activated.
Going into Friday night, third baseman Anthony Rendon and shortstop Trea Turner had the highest batting averages on the Nats in terms of active everyday players at .272 and .268. And the Nats were just 14th in runs scored (243) and 19th in team batting average (.240). They’re a team in need of consistency from its offense and spark plugs to present themselves; Reynolds has been and could continue to provide them with such a presence.The Washington @Nationals have long had a knack for making the most out of aging players. As @RPStratakos writes, Mark Reynolds is the latest example.Click To Tweet
Another first baseman who has proven to be a shrewd signing by Nats’ management is Matt Adams. While his average has dipped a bit over the last couple of weeks, the big left-handed hitter continues to provide a power surge in the middle of the team’s order. Going into Friday night, he had recorded 12 home runs to go along with 32 RBIs. With Zimmerman on the disabled list, Adams has taken the majority of the homegrown product’s at-bats and is putting the Nats in a situation where Martinez may have to keep him in the order (potentially moving Adams to left field).
Last year, management signed first baseman Adam Lind in free agency and he contributed in a big way too. Hitting .303 to go along with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs, he was an asset off the team’s bench and one of their most dangerous hitters. Much like Adams, the Nats found ways to get Lind more involved whether it be backing up Zimmerman at first base, playing left field, or pinch-hitting in late-inning situations.
But it’s not just first basemen that Rizzo and company are adept at signing and getting production from; it’s starting pitching too. Late in the offseason, the Nats agreed to a minor-league deal with righty Jeremy Hellickson, and he’s been everything they could’ve asked for and then some. The 31-year-old didn’t make his first start with the team until April 16 but has answered the call in the eight outings he’s made this season. Currently owning a 2.30 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, he’s deepened what is an already formidable Nats’ rotation. A signing once viewed as a transaction for depth has become one that’s completed their pitching staff.
Last season, they also received great production from reliever Matt Albers. Much like Hellickson, Albers was viewed as a transaction made solely for depth, but he ended up being their most consistent reliever in 2017. Recording an astonishing 1.62 ERA and 0.85 WHIP to go along with 63 strikeouts in 61.0 innings pitched, the righty was a steady force out of the Nats bullpen.
Whether it be first basemen or starting pitchers, Rizzo and the Nats are accustomed to finding veteran talent in free agency and getting the most out of it. And the addition of Reynolds is proving to be another case of their under-the-radar ability to make shrewd free agent signings.