It has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Washington Nationals. Outside of retaining reliever Brandon Kintzler on a two-year deal and inking first baseman Matt Adams to a one-year deal, they’ve kept things simple, but now appear to be looking to shake up the hot stove.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, the Nationals have continued interest in Rockies closer Greg Holland, and according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, they’re interested in Cardinals righty Lance Lynn, too. However, while the two are considered some of the more premier names on the open market, neither free agent makes sense for the Nationals.
For the majority of last season, the Nats bullpen was their most glaring weakness. Pitching to an ERA over five going into July, they were unable to consistently finish games. Then, general manager Mike Rizzo went out and acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics and Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins; all three relievers delivered for Washington. With Doolittle converting 21 of 22 save opportunities, Madson pitching to a 1.37 ERA, and Kintzler providing versatility in the late innings, the Nats finally had the makings of a reliable backend. With all three retuning for 2018, why would the Nats opt to shake things up?
While Holland is a proven commodity in the ninth inning, he’s not a must-have or the missing piece to the puzzle for Washington. Last season, Holland won the NL Comeback Player of the Year award for converting 41-of-45 saves and providing the Rockies with their ninth inning solution. At the same time, he pitched to a 3.61 ERA and put runners on base often. While Holland’s addition could bolster their pen, why would the Nationals add a reliever who arguably wouldn’t even be their number-one or two option with Doolittle and Madson in place? Plus, being that he’s the best remaining reliever on the market, Holland could potentially cost eight figures per year — which is an incredibly hefty sum for a player who is not of dire need.
Then there’s Lynn. While the righty has pitched to an ERA under four in each of his last five seasons and is one of the more underrated players on the free agent market, adding a starter is not at the top of Washington’s needs — for the ones that still exist, if any.
With Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark in place, the Nats already have the core of one of the better rotations in MLB. And even if they decided that adding a starter should be a priority, it would be better to go all the way and pursue Jake Arrieta, instead of signing Lynn; if they’re going to spend big on pitching and go all-in on 2018, they might as well think as big as possible.
The Nationals dished out top dollars to Scherzer ($210 million) and Strasburg ($175 million) and with Bryce Harper‘s free agency on the horizon, management is likely going to do their best to put themselves in position to retain the homegrown star. Signing Holland and/or Lynn to multi-year deals for a significant amount of coin per year would severely affect their payroll flexibility when it comes to re-signing Harper in 2018 and other key pieces going forward, such as third baseman Anthony Rendon in 2020. At the same time, if the Nationals’ sights were set on bolstering their rotation and pen, then signing Wade Davis — before he inked a three-year deal with the Rockies — and Arrieta, who were the top of the free-agent class at their respected niches, would’ve been the way to go.
It has been an incredibly slow-moving free agent period, and the Nationals may be looking themselves in the mirror and thinking that they have to spend money based on how they’re constructed to win now — which their interest in Holland and Lynn proves. Could both players make the Nats an even more formidable threat to win the National League Pennant? Sure, you can never have enough pitching. But, neither free agent is a great fit or must-have. A backend reliever and middle of the rotation arm — especially at high price tags — are not pressing needs for the Nats and the interest in the two areas comes off as looking to spend money just for the sake of appearances when in reality doing so doesn’t propel their team to the next level and also hurts their payroll.