So much for the Washington Nationals going into the holiday season quietly as news broke on Christmas Eve that the team had traded for Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman, Josh Bell.
“We are thrilled to be adding a player of Josh Bell’s caliber to our team,” Nationals GM, Mike Rizzo, said of the new addition in the team’s press release on Thursday. “He adds a switch-hitting power bat to our lineup. And we know Josh will be an outstanding addition to our clubhouse and our community.”
Despite a somewhat disappointing year in the shortened 2020 season, Bell will be a huge addition to the Nationals’ lineup.
For his career, Bell has slashed .261/.349/.466 with a 114 wRC+ in five major league seasons.
His best season was an All-Star campaign in 2019 when he sported a .277/.367/.569 slash line and finished with 37home runs, 116 RBIs, and a 135 wRC+.
That’s why it’s tough to read too much into his 2020 slump — let’s be real, haven’t most of us been in somewhat of a 2020 slump in our lives this year — and reasonable to look for him to bounce back.
Last week when Rizzo spoke to reporters, he indicated that a middle-of-the-order bat was his top priority this offseason, and Bell certainly fits that category.
“I think our top priority in our search is — via the free agent market and even the trade market — is trying to get a bat to fill in the middle of the lineup and trying to complement the rest of our middle of the lineup bats,” Rizzo explained.
“It’s no secret that we’re a pitching-oriented team. We’ve got three great strong starting pitchers coming back.
“We’ve got a bullpen that we feel is built with a lot of depth and versatility. We’ve got some good veteran guys back there and some good young arms, more on the come, so we felt that our best bet would be to kind of surround the guys we have in the middle of the lineup already with some more bats and make offensive production a little bit more of a priority this offseason.”
But while Bell is certainly a great start in the team’s goal to get better on offense, they could still do with at least one more potent bat that can slot into the middle of their lineup in 2021.
Even with career years for both Juan Soto and Trea Turner in 2020, they were the only two Nationals players with at least 50 plate appearances to own a wRC+ above 110.
That left Washington at a mediocre 13th in the majors in wRC+ at 103 as a team.
So, with Bell now locked in at first base at Nationals Park, where else in the field could Washington look to add another impact bat?
“The perfect fit would be at first base or one of the corner outfielders,” Rizzo said, with the former of those holes now checked off his wishlist.
“There was a method to Davey’s madness last year when he put [Soto] into right field for the last couple of games of the season to see how he would adhere to that.
“[It’s a] position he’s played in the past. I think we’re versatile in the fact that it doesn’t have to be strictly a right fielder or strictly a left fielder, but a corner outfielder that complements the lineup.”
There have been plenty of reports recently about potential corner outfield bats that the Nationals could scoop up in the coming weeks and months.
Marcell Ozuna is one of the prizes of the free agent pool this winter after his huge 2020 season for the Atlanta Braves, finishing sixth in the NL MVP voting with a .338/.431/.636 slash line while leading the senior circuit with his 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.
While his defense leaves a lot to be desired, this would be a scenario where Martinez could shift Soto back to his natural right field and have Ozuna in left, the least-demanding outfield position.
There have also been reports of interest in Kyle Schwarber. The catcher-turned-outfielder would likely come at a cheaper price to Ozuna after he was non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs earlier this offseason and could fill a similar hole, despite trending the opposite direction.
The Nats could also get a bit more creative with a trade for someone like third baseman Eugenio Suárez, a player Jon Heyman recently reported the team has interest in, and move on from Carter Kieboom, who has been a disappointment so far in the major leagues.
Suárez, the Cincinnati Reds’ third baseman, is in a similar boat to Bell as a potential bounce-back candidate from a team looking to sell-off some of its players to cut payroll.
For his career, Suarez owns a .261/.342/.473 career slash line compared to a miserable .202/.312/.470 in 2020.
With a lot of holes still left to be filled, there are plenty of ways that Rizzo and the rest of the front office can get creative with populating the heart of the lineup.
That said, Bell looks to be a huge addition for the team already, and he is a great Christmas present for Nationals fans to get excited about for the coming season...