Murphy helps solve two of the Nationals’ big needs and a minor one: he’s a second baseman, which they had been looking for; he is a left-handed bat, which was needed in a right-handed heavy lineup; and he is a contact hitter. His defense, however, is his biggest weakness but he is versatile and can play several positions. So what’s next?
Well, the Nationals still have needs. Who will hit leadoff for the team? Unless the Nationals acquire another hitter, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth could be the best, although not ideal, options for the spot. The Nationals could also use another strong outfielder, someone who could play everyday should Werth, or others, suffer injuries or if Michael A. Taylor struggles in his second year. Maybe a solution to both of those concerns could be the same player.
Denard Span is still available and the Nationals haven’t publicly closed that door, though privately they are wary of his health. Although the outfielder is running and rehabbing from his late August hip surgery, he may not be back to pre-surgery form until later in the season. Other potential options could include free agents — all who can play center field — Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and Gerardo Parra — or, on the trade market, the Colorado Rockies trio of left-handed-hitting outfielders, Carlos Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon.
The Nationals have talked to the Rockies this winter but the asking price for Gonzalez was viewed as too high and it is unclear where things stand now. The free agent names are simply speculated fits. The Nationals have long had interest in left-handed-hitting Parra, who can play all three outfield spots, is a former Gold Glover, has a strong arm and can hit for some power. But advanced metrics have noted a decline in the 28-year-old’s defense and his career .326 on-base percentage isn’t ideal for a leadoff spot either.
Defensive metrics don’t rate Fowler well either but is 29 and can play center field. He is a switch hitter, has a career .363 on-base percentage and slugged a career-high 17 home runs last season. Fowler has a draft pick attached to him — he rejected the Chicago Cubs’ qualifying offer — but, now that the Nationals have already given up their first-round pick to sign Murphy, they can easily go further. They already netted a compensation pick from Jordan Zimmermann signing with the the Detroit Tigers and hope to get a second when Ian Desmond signs elsewhere.
Beyond the position players, the Nationals still have things to finalize with the pitching staff. General Manager Mike Rizzo has said several times this offseason that he doesn’t need to trade Jonathan Papelbon and/or Drew Storen, and that he would be happy with a rotation that has Tanner Roark and Joe Ross.
Behind the scenes, the Nationals have fielded offers for both relievers, and have pursued free agent starting pitchers. The Nationals have overhauled their bullpen, which struggled in the middle innings last season, with several new relievers: Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit and Shawn Kelley. But the futures of Papelbon and/or Storen will loom over the team the rest of the offseason. If Storen is traded, the Nationals have a few set-up options, such as Felipe Rivero. But if Papelbon is traded, who would close?
Lastly, the rotation. The Nationals made an introductory offer to free agent starter Mike Leake and didn’t think they would land him. He eventually signed a five-year, $80-million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. But the Nationals’ pursuit showed they were willing to add a starter, perhaps sensing a chance to pounce on an undervalued player. (And next year’s free agent starter class isn’t strong beyond Stephen Strasburg.) If the Nationals did add a starter, it would be to trade a starter to fill their other needs. Gio Gonzalez, for example, could be attractive trade bait because of his age (30) and contract (under team control for three more seasons for $36 million).
Other potentials starting options that fit the same mold: left-handers Scott Kazmir and Wei-Yen Chen, and right-hander Ian Kennedy. The Nationals have interest in Kazmir, according to another person familiar with the situation. The Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros are also reportedly pursuing Kazmir. Kennedy and Chen are represented by agent Scott Boras, who has a good relationship with the Nationals owners, but it is unclear now how interested the Nationals are in either starter.
December is almost over, and spring training starts in over a month and a half. The Nationals have more to go.