So far this winter, the Washington Nationals have barely made a dent in their offseason wishlist.
The Nats have only made three major league additions this offseason. First, they re-signed utility man, Josh Harrison, then they brought in former Minnesota Twins’ farmhand, Sam Clay, on a major league deal, and finally claimed Rogelio Armenteros off waivers.
None of those moves grab the headlines necessarily. However, as a report yesterday suggested, that doesn’t mean that the Nationals aren’t working on things behind the scenes.
According to Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post, the Nationals pursued free agent first baseman, Carlos Santana, before he eventually agreed to a two-year, $17.5 million deal with the Kansas City Royals earlier this week.
With the Nationals on the lookout for several upgrades to what was a mediocre lineup in the shortened 2020 season, Santana made a lot of sense as an everyday first baseman.
In his 11 big league seasons, Santana has slashed .248/.366/.446 with 240 home runs and 796 RBIs, giving him an OPS+ of 120, meaning he’s been significantly above average at the plate.
Despite coming up as a catcher with the Cleveland Indians, at this point in his career Santana would’ve essentially only been able to play first base for the Nationals in 2021 — though he’s an above-average defender at first since moving there full-time in 2015.
But the main reason any team would acquire Santana is his bat, and the main reason he’s such a boon to any lineup he’s part of is his ability to draw walks like few others in the league.
Since Santana entered the big leagues in 2010, he ranks fifth among qualified hitters in walk-rate according to FanGraphs, walking 15.5% of the time. The only players who have a higher percentage than him are Joey Votto, Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, and José Bautista.
Though his poor .248 batting average brings down his overall on-base percentage to .366, his on-base skills are worthy of hitting in the top half of most lineups in the big leagues, so it’s no surprise that the Nationals were considering signing the Dominican-born first baseman.
Santana would’ve made a fine three-hole hitter that gets on-base ahead of Juan Soto, as manager Dave Martinez has shown previously that’s where he would like the 22-year-old to hit.
Alas, Washington seemingly wasn’t offering as much as the Royals either in total value or in average annual value, hence why the switch-hitting slugger will make the move across the AL Central to Missouri.
The good news for Nats fans is that Mike Rizzo and the front office certainly appear to be prioritizing offensive upgrades along the lines of Santana to ensure that they give some protection to their two studs from a year ago in Soto and shortstop Trea Turner.
If they were willing to spend at least close to what the Royals paid for Santana, there should be plenty of fits for them in the free agent market for players along the same lines.
For example, though he doesn’t play the same position as Santana, outfielder Michael Brantley would seemingly fit the same mold. A bat-first player who wouldn’t look out of place in the top half of the lineup for a modest value on a two or three-year contract.
Or potentially the newly-released Kyle Schwarber and Eddie Rosario would follow the same line of thought and add some much-needed thump to the Nationals’ lineup for little cost too.
Either way, despite the Nationals missing out on Santana, it shouldn’t be too long before the team’s plans come into focus this offseason and their roster begins to take shape following a disappointing World Series title defense in 2020...