Another week and another transaction for the Washington Nationals — or, at least that’s how it feels at this point. Thursday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the Nationals agreed to a one-year, $9 million deal with second baseman Brian Dozier. In doing so, they have yet another excuse to not re-sign homegrown star Bryce Harper.
Last season was a discouraging period of time for Dozier. In split time with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers, he hit a career-worse .215 and played a limited role in the postseason for the Dodgers. With that said, don’t write Dozier off after one uncharacteristic season at the plate. From 2016-17, he totaled 76 home runs and 93-plus RBIs in each season. He’s also appeared in 151-plus games a season since 2014. And even in the midst of his struggles to get on base last season, Dozier still totaled 21 home runs and 72 RBIs.
While Dozier isn’t looked upon as an elite fielder, he was a 2017 Gold Glove recipient and can be relied on to serve as a team’s everyday second baseman. He’s a power hitter, one of the best all-around second basemen in the sport, and durable. If he were a free agent last offseason, it would be difficult to envision Dozier inking just a one-year contract. While the Nationals have many steady, contact hitters, they could use someone with pop — and Dozier gives them precisely that.
This offseason, the Nationals have been hyperactive. For starters, they’ve made three trades. They acquired reliever Kyle Barraclough from the Miami Marlins and All-Star catcher Yan Gomes from the Cleveland Indians, while trading right-hander Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds for minor-league reliever Tanner Rainey. Meanwhile, general manager Mike Rizzo has been just as active on the free agent market. Agreeing to deals with left-hander Patrick Corbin (six-year, $140 million deal), right-hander Anibal Sanchez (two-year, $19 million deal), catcher Kurt Suzuki (two-year, $10 million deal) first baseman Matt Adams (one-year, $4 million deal), reliever Trevor Rosenthal (one-year, $7 million deal), and now Dozier, the Nationals have added multiple high-profile and/or impactful individuals to their roster.Signing Brian Dozier has its benefits for the Nationals, but the move is merely an excuse to let coveted free agent Bryce Harper walk away, @RPStratakos says.Click To Tweet
Throughout it all, Harper remains a free agent. The Nationals supposedly offered him a 10-year, $300 million deal at the conclusion of the 2018 regular season and recently upped their offer. Two months into his free agency, the Nationals have constructed a roster that could contend for the National League Pennant without Harper.
The Nationals are projected to be fourth in Major League Baseball in payroll for 2019 ($180 million). It was also reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that Rendon, who is a free agent after 2019, is seeking a seven-year, $163 million deal. Meanwhile, Harper is looking to cash in on a record-setting contract. From a financial standpoint, you could argue that the last thing the Nationals should be doing after all the money they’ve spent this offseason is give out a $300-plus million contract, especially if they aspire to retain Rendon.
If the Nationals don’t go all in to keep Harper, it doesn’t mean they’re in rebuilding mode, or don’t want to win now. In fact, none of the transactions they’ve made this offseason could support such a notion. Gomes, a 2018 All-Star Game participant, and Suzuki give them reliable two-way catchers, and Dozier is a premier second baseman. On the hill, Corbin and Sanchez will join Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and either Joe Ross or Erick Fedde to form one of the most dominant starting rotations in MLB. While they need to add more depth to shore up their bullpen, adding Barraclough and Rosenthal is a step in the right direction.
Manager Dave Martinez has a competent lineup capable of producing at a high level. With Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Eaton, Victor Robles/Michael Taylor, Gomes, and Dozier projected to be everyday starters, the Nationals have an offense that features a healthy mix of established veterans and improving young players.
You could argue that one year from now some of the individuals who will play prominent roles for the Nationals in 2019 will be even better. Rendon has hit above .300 in each of the last two seasons while compiling 49 home runs and 192 RBIs in that time span; Turner is coming off a season in which he hit just .271; Soto will be playing his first full season in the majors; Robles projects to get more consistent playing time.
Is Dozier going to be a long-term fixture at second base? If you have to put money down on such a question, you’re better off going with no. Dozier signed a one-year deal, and after a rollercoaster 2018 campaign, chances are he’s going to play for a long-term deal worth eight figures next offseason and understandably so. Plus, if the Nationals prioritize re-signing Harper and/or Rendon, they’re going to do so over keeping Dozier. In all likelihood, the 31-year-old is the bridge that leads to Wilmer Difo, or infield prospect Carter Kieboom taking over as the Nationals full-time second baseman. After he underwhelmed in the final month and a half of 2018 as the starting second baseman — after Daniel Murphy was traded to the Chicago Cubs — chances are the Nationals feel more comfortable with a veteran playing every day at the middle infield position over Difo in 2019. Meanwhile, Kieboom is yet to make his MLB debut.
The Nationals have their most well-balanced lineup since landing in the nation’s capital. It’s not to say it’s more dangerous than years past, but there’s no gaping weakness in their order. Perhaps you could argue that Soto and Robles will hit a wall and/or struggle in their first full season at the major league level. Outside of their youth prospering, what other obvious concern is there with Martinez’s lineup? Dozier enduring another down year at the plate? Zimmerman’s health? For the Nationals sake, they’ve added depth by signing Adams, and they will have the likes of Difo, Taylor, and catcher Spencer Kieboom on standby.
If the Nationals still wanted to re-sign Harper, they could. It would give them an extremely high payroll, but imagine the lineup and roster they have now, plus Harper: they would be the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series, and that’s likely why the Lerner family won’t call it quits in contract talks. With that said, if they give Harper a $300-plus million deal, what are the odds they pull out all the stops to keep Rendon too?
When they’re at full force, Harper is a better and more dangerous player than Rendon, but it’s not by a landslide. And, at the end of the day, the Nationals have a succession plan for Harper in Soto and Robles. Right now, the Nationals outfield rotation is Soto, Eaton, Robles, and Taylor. Are there 300 million reasons why they need a star outfielder?
What would be the Nationals’ plan for life without Rendon? While they have Difo on the bench and Kieboom is highly regarded, neither player is a natural third baseman meaning the Nationals would have to go outside the organization to replace their star corner infielder; it’s easier said than done.
A world with Harper is better than one without him for the Nationals. Who would argue the opposite? At the same time, they’ve assembled a pennant threat without a decision from Harper, and that’s extremely impressive.