On Thursday, the Nationals acquired their long sought-after leadoff hitter and center fielder, trading away their best pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for Denard Span, an indication that the team is putting an emphasis on winning now.
And because the Nationals nabbed the type of player they wanted — without spending B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn-type money or committing to five-plus years, for that matter — they have positioned themselves to make any number of possible moves in the remaining months of the offseason. Thomas Boswell, in his column today, dissects the scenarios well and succinctly.
For now, the Nationals’ top priorities are determining who will play first base — whether Adam LaRoche signs with the team and they trade Michael Morse or LaRoche reaches a deal with another team and Morse returns to the infield, plus other possibilities — and filling the final spot in their starting rotation. An additional priority is to bolster the bullpen, possibly with a veteran and/or a left-hander.
Adding another starting pitcher doesn’t necessarily have to be accomplished through free agency; it could be done by trading from a position of excess, such as Morse if LaRoche re-signs. John Lannan, who is arbitration-eligible and stands to make at least $4 million, could even be a possibility for a trade ahead of the 11:59 p.m. deadline tonight to tender contracts.
The starting pitcher often linked to the Nationals by analysts is Zack Greinke, a 29-year-old right-hander the Nationals coveted in the past and tried acquiring in a trade. Greinke, according to reports, has been a top target of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a big-spending team seemingly willing to dole out its cash. Boz writes that the Nationals likely won’t nab Greinke because of the immense amount of money the Dodgers or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could throw at him, very likely north of $100 million. The Nationals, with the wealthy Lerner family, could do the same but at the cost of potentially hurting their ability to re-sign homegrown players such as Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
In 2010, the Nationals had a deal in place with the Kansas City Royals for Greinke but he struck it down and rejected a $100 million contract extension. The Nationals indicated then they were willing to part with Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen in the trade. Greinke wanted to be on a contending team instead of the Nationals, who he recognized then as trying to build. Fast-forward two years, and Greinke is a free agent and those players have become major contributors to the Nationals’ success. This could be enticing for Greinke.
Bur Greinke isn’t the only option. Other free agent starters that are also available are Kyle Lohse, Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster and others, pitchers who could command medium to large commitments but much less than Greinke.
Based on my colleague Adam Kilgore’s calculations, which included estimated salaries for the arbitration-eligible players the Nationals likely will keep, the team has committed roughly $87 million to their 2013 payroll. Span’s team-friendly contract, a five-year extension awarded by the Twins in 2010, has him earning $11.25 million combined over the next two seasons with a $9 million team option for 2015. In 2013, he stands to make $4.75 million, which brings the Nationals commitments to about $91.75 million. Based on the 2012 team payrolls, that would land them 15th in the majors in spending. So they could add more salary, and likely will, but it remains to be seen how much.
The Nationals now have taken up 39 spots on their 40-man roster with the addition of Span. That includes catcher Jesus Flores and Lannan, two players expected to be not be tendered contracts by the Nationals.