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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Let’s pass some of the time left until spring training by spending Major League Baseball teams’ money.
Not literally, of course. We merely have suggestions for how each of MLB‘s 30 teams should spend as they seek to round out their rosters for the upcoming season. One free-agent signing apiece ought to do it.
We only considered realistic signings, such as cheap upside plays for rebuilders and more expensive splashes for contenders. In all cases, the idea was to erase some of the more outstanding needs across the league. And because some players fit well on more than one team, there are some repeat suggestions.
We’ll go in alphabetical order by city.
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As MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert covered, the retooling Arizona Diamondbacks need to figure out first base so they can subsequently determine third base, second base and center field.
Signing a first bagger would allow the D-backs to keep Jake Lamb at third with Eduardo Escobar at second while Ketel Marte moves to center. The ideal candidate is a left-handed hitter who could platoon with Christian Walker, preferably with upside as an everyday option.
Hence Logan Morrison.
The 31-year-old followed a 38-homer breakout with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 with a dismal turn (.644 OPS and 18 homers) for the Minnesota Twins in 2018. As it turned out, he was playing through a hip injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery.
The Snakes could sign Morrison to a cheap, incentive-laden contract. Provided he makes a strong recovery, their reward could be a shiny trade chip for the summer market.
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Though the Atlanta Braves need a corner outfielder, pickings are slim in that section of the free-agent market. Elsewhere, their alleged need for a starting pitcher could be filled with any number of talented prospects.
Atlanta’s focus on the open market should therefore be on impact relievers, of whom Craig Kimbrel is the best left standing. The 30-year-old posted a 1.43 ERA and struck out 14.8 batters per nine innings with the Braves between 2010 and 2014. He’s hit snags since then, but he’s still mustered a 2.47 ERA and a 14.5 K/9.
If not, the reigning National League East champs should feel comfortable extending themselves a little. Their long-term books aren’t fully loaded, after all, and they only stand to lose their third-highest pick in the 2019 draft by signing Kimbrel.
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With a 115-loss season in their wake and a new leadership freshly in place, the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles must now stock up on low-risk trade chips.
The best place to put them is in their rotation, which has two open slots behind Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner. Among the more intriguing free-agent options is Ervin Santana.
The 36-year-old was slow to heal from finger surgery in 2018, and he ultimately returned to an 8.03 ERA in five outings for the Twins. Between that and his age, he’s likely in the market for a modest one-year guarantee.
Yet, Santana was an All-Star as recently as 2017, when he displayed a sudden knack for inducing soft contact. If he were to get back to that, even Oriole Park at Camden Yards might not stop him from revitalizing his career and, for Baltimore’s sake, his trade value.
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Regarding the possibility of re-signing Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had this to say to Bob Nightengale of USA Today: “Craig did a great job for us; he’s a Hall of Fame reliever. But we have not anticipated having a large expenditure for a closer.”
But as much as they want to save money, they also need to defend their World Series championship. They’ll be hard-pressed to do that without substantial upgrades to their bullpen. Barring cuts in other departments, they can’t make substantial upgrades and stay under the $246 million threshold.
Since the Red Sox can’t have it both ways, our suggestion is to throw caution to the wind for a second straight year and go for it by bringing Kimbrel back. They can worry about getting under the luxury tax in 2020, when a ton of money is due to come off their books.
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As fun as it would be to assign Bryce Harper to the Chicago Cubs, two things work against the idea.
Like the Red Sox, the Cubs are already projected to be deep in luxury tax territory in 2019. Even if that’s neither here nor there, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein hinted on 670 The Score, thing two is that the Cubs need a bullpen arm far more than they need a bat.
Kimbrel should arguably be a possibility, but the Cubs will have a realistic shot at avoiding the harshest luxury tax penalties if they opt for Adam Ottavino.
The 33-year-old is coming off a 2.43 ERA and 13.0 K/9 in 75 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2018. That should result in him matching Zach Britton’s average annual value of $13 million.
Such a figure wouldn’t put the Cubs over the $246 million luxury tax red line. Their bullpen, meanwhile, would get a much-needed shot in the arm.
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The Chicago White Sox have already added Manny Machado’s brother-in-law (Yonder Alonso) and good friend (Jon Jay). Per Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, “momentum is building” for them to add Machado himself next.
They really ought to be gravitating toward A.J. Pollock.
Though there’s an undeniable market value gap between the two, Pollock has only produced 0.5 fewer wins above replacement than Bryce Harper since 2017, according to Baseball Reference. Despite being limited to 225 games by injuries, the 31-year-old has put up an .801 OPS with 35 homers and 33 stolen bases.
Much more so than Jay, Pollock would be a substantial upgrade for a Chicago outfield that finished dead last in the American League in WAR last year. And unlike Machado, Pollock would help nudge the White Sox out of their rebuild without putting a massive weight on their long-term books. Following a 100-loss season, it’s a bit soon for such a risk.
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The Cincinnati Reds have angled to break out of their rebuild by adding Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark to a roster that sorely needed depth.
The Reds’ plan, however, has a failsafe. They’re only renting their four big additions, which opens up the possibility of a losses-cutting fire sale during the summer trading season. It’s a solid plan that really only needs a center fielder.
The Reds should consider Adam Jones. The 33-year-old is now four years removed from his last All-Star appearance and coming off just 0.2 wins above replacement, to boot. In all likelihood, these things put him in the market for a one-year deal.
Jones is still a decent hitter, however, and Great American Ball Park wouldn’t place too great a strain on his defense. Even if he can’t help the Reds contend, Cincinnati is one of the best places for him to build up value.
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Yes, the other Ohio team is also a fit for Jones.
Anyone with a working set of eyes can see that the Cleveland Indians need an outfielder, preferably a right-handed one who could balance out a lineup that leans heavily to the left.
The catch is that this outfielder must be cheap. Though Cleveland has cut its projected payroll for 2019 down to $116.7 million, it’s telling that the team still hasn’t taken either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer off the trading block, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com.
As he’s coming off making $17.3 million in 2018, even a diminished version of Jones might command too much for Cleveland. But if the market pushes him toward, say, a Carlos Gomez-like deal of $4 million guaranteed with incentives, Jones could be safely within the Indians’ price range.
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The Colorado Rockies filled a big need when they signed Daniel Murphy, but that deal also seemed to fill up their payroll. Their $151.9 million projection for 2019 will shatter their Opening Day record of $137 million.
According to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, the Rockies were nonetheless interested in Brian Dozier before he agreed to join the Washington Nationals. He would have been a solid upside play, not to mention cheaper than fellow second baseman Jed Lowrie and former Rockie DJ LeMahieu.
In this case, Josh Harrison is a potential Plan B. Following a rough 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates declined the 31-year-old’s $10.5 million option for 2019. A one-year deal will certainly pay him less than that.
Harrison would bring versatility to the Rockies, as he can play many other positions besides second base. With a bat that helped him earn All-Star nods in 2014 and 2017, he could also offer solid offensive upside.
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The Detroit Tigers’ rebuild has been going fairly well, but the team hasn’t yet assembled an elite farm system. We have theirs just shy of the top 10 at No. 11 overall.
This should be Detroit’s cue to aim big in its search for trade chips. There are still a handful of options for the team’s hole at second base, including Neil Walker.
Walker, 33, entered the 2018 season with a rock-solid .778 career OPS. He then got off to a slow start with the New York Yankees, but he ultimately rebounded by hitting more like himself with an .802 OPS over his final 58 games.
The Tigers may be able to secure Walker’s bat for no more than the $4 million he was guaranteed for 2018. If he were to pick up where he left off, they’d have themselves a decent trade chip.
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With Charlie Morton gone and Lance McCullers Jr. recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Houston Astros need at least one reliable starter behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
Why not just re-sign Dallas Keuchel?
Yet, Houston’s wariness about re-signing Keuchel is best viewed with a skeptical eye. He’s the only impact starter left on the open market. Beyond having a clear need for him, the Astros are a World Series hopeful with only one guaranteed contract (Jose Altuve) on their books beyond 2020.
If the Astros must have a shorter deal, they could always try to lure Keuchel with a high average annual value. They have enough luxury tax space (about $24 million) to possibly make that work.
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The Kansas City Royals have some rebuilding to do following a disastrous 104-loss season in 2018. For this, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan noted that the next step is loading up on cheap bullpen arms.
That’s a gateway to any number of suggestions. But considering how little the Royals have to lose, a reunion with old friend Greg Holland is perhaps their most intriguing possibility.
The 33-year-old entered last winter’s market fresh off a 41-save season with the Rockies, yet he lingered on the market until March 31 and never got on track with the St. Louis Cardinals. They cut Holland loose after he had put up a 7.92 ERA in 32 appearances.
Holland did, however, rebound with a 0.84 ERA over 24 appearances with the Washington Nationals after they picked him up. By then, he was avoiding contact like his old self. Were he to carry that over into 2019, the Royals would be glad to have signed him for what will be a minimal guarantee.
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If the Astros continue to balk at re-signing Keuchel, the Los Angeles Angels should take that as their cue to swoop in.
Keuchel has been on the Angels’ radar for the entire offseason, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Signing him would cap a rotation renovation that’s already netted Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill.
The left-hander is a pitch-to-contact type who’s especially good at inducing ground balls. The makes him a good fit for the Angels. They play in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark, and their strong defense has Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart and David Fletcher on the infield.
Money is a question mark, given that the Angels’ $165.9 million projection for 2019 puts them right up against the franchise’s established ceiling. But if ever there was a time to make full use of the team’s massive TV deal and reliable attendance, it’s before free agency can lure Mike Trout away after 2020.
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Putting Harper in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform is more complicated than it should be.
The Dodgers may be planning on staying under the luxury tax threshold through 2022, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. This goal seemingly motivated their trade of Puig, Kemp and Wood, yet they’re still less than $20 million away from the $206 million threshold. Harper, of course, figures to cost at least $30 million per year.
However, the Dodgers got under the luxury tax in 2018, thereby resetting their penalties for going over. As to other matters, they’re a $3 billion franchise (per Forbes) with a bigger TV deal and better attendance than any other team. They’re also questing to win the World Series after losing it in 2017 and 2018.
For his part, Harper is a six-time All-Star and former MVP with 184 home runs and a .900 OPS to his name. The Dodgers could be very, very glad they opened their considerable coffers to sign him.
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Nowhere is the Miami Marlins’ youth movement more visible than in their outfield. As MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro covered, the team is tasked with choosing three everyday options from a cast of nine young candidates.
The Marlins should look to bring in at least one veteran. Ideally, he’d be a left-handed hitter with some name value that has potential to turn into trade value. In short: Carlos Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters with the Rockies between 2010 and 2016. That ceased to be the case in 2017, but Gonzalez enjoyed a modest rebirth in 2018. He put up a solid .796 OPS in 132 games. He notably had an .828 OPS against right-handed pitching.
Nonetheless, the 33-year-old probably isn’t in for more than the $5 million guarantee he found on last winter’s market. That puts him in Miami’s price range for a worthwhile upside play.
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But with a trip to the National League Championship Series fresh in their wake and a tough field to overcome in the NL Central, the Brewers aren’t done yet. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that they’re after an infield upgrade, which could and should be Mike Moustakas.
The 30-year-old clubbed 66 homers over the last two seasons, including eight homers in 54 games with the Brewers down the stretch in 2018. He could return to primarily play third base, with Travis Shaw moving into regular action at second base.
Moustakas is in line for a bigger guarantee than the $5.5 million he settled for last season, but even a two-year deal could be worth south of $20 million. If the Brewers truly mean to go for it, that shouldn’t be too much for them.
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Among other things, the Minnesota Twins entered the winter with a need to shore up a bullpen that frequently melted down in 2018.
Blake Parker, who signed with the Twins this week, should help, but the Twins seem to still have enough payroll space for an opportunistic play on a more established reliever. According to La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune, one name they’ve considered is Cody Allen.
Allen was reliably dominant with Cleveland from 2013 to 2017, putting up a 2.59 ERA and 11.9 K/9. In no small part thanks to a sudden downturn in fastball velocity, he slipped to a 4.70 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 2018. Rather than a Kelvin Herrera-like two-year deal, he may have to settle for a one-year pillow contract.
The Twins should leap and see if Allen still has the stuff to be a closer. If not, Parker, Trevor May or Taylor Rogers can take the job.
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Between the additions of Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, Keon Broxton, J.D. Davis and Hector Santiago, the New York Mets have filled a ton of needs already this winter.
Yet, they’re still only projected to open 2019 with a $141.9 million payroll. That’s below the $150-plus million marks they opened with in 2017 and 2018, so there should still be enough money in Queens for an impact left-hander to round out their late-inning relief corps.
Justin Wilson fits the bill. The 31-year-old has had some control issues here and there, yet he’s whiffed 11.9 batters per nine innings over the last two seasons. And unlike your garden variety lefty reliever, he typically doesn’t come with a platoon split.
A two-year deal for Wilson will likely cost less than $10 million a pop. The Mets should be able to afford that.
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There’s little doubt that Machado fits on the New York Yankees.
He could fill in at shortstop until Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery. After that, he could push Miguel Andujar from third base to either first base or the trade market. All the while, he could add his offensive thunder (36 homers per year since 2015) to a lineup that has plenty of it.
According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, the Yankees are believed to be Machado’s preferred destination, yet they haven’t even made him an official offer yet. With the White Sox hard after him and the Philadelphia Phillies “turning up their pursuit” of the 26-year-old, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Yankees had better get on that.
Of course, any deal with Machado would send the Yankees careening over the $206 million luxury-tax threshold. But the same question for the Dodgers also applies to New York: What was the point of getting under the luxury line in 2018, if not to go right back over again?
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The A’s have already pushed their 2019 payroll to $86.7 million, which is about as high as they’ve ever gone. Yet, they still need to add at least one starter with the potential to be a reliable innings-eater.
A reunion with Brett Anderson, who Ben Ross of NBC Sports Bay Area says is on Oakland’s radar, isn’t such a good idea. The A’s are better off looking at low-risk pitchers with less extensive injury histories, such as Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley, Drew Pomeranz, Martin Perez or, since he fits best in their price range, Santana.
Before finger surgery ruined his 2018 season, Santana averaged 187 innings per year from 2006 to 2017. Oakland’s rotation sorely needs a workhorse like that, and Santana’s pitch-to-contact style would play excellently amid the Coliseum’s huge dimensions and the A’s fantastic defense.
These things should also appeal to Santana, so the A’s might get him even if their offer is no better than anyone else’s.
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Either Machado or Harper would look good on the Phillies, whose push for contention needs a high-impact hitter. Between the two, however, Harper fits just a little bit better.
Along with Andrew McCutchen, Harper would be yet another upgrade for an outfield that produced fewer WAR than any other in 2018, according to Baseball Reference.
The 26-year-old would also fit well at Citizens Bank Park. It’s a bandbox that caters to all sluggers, and Harper has the all-fields power to take advantage of short porches in both left and right field.
Moneywise, there isn’t much of a question that the Phillies can afford Harper. They’re set to open 2019 at $132.8 million. The franchise peaked at $177.7 million even before its $2.5 billion local TV contract kicked in. Whether it’s with a long-term deal or a shorter pact with a huge average annual value, they can squeeze in Harper.
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After Machado, the shortstop market consists of glove-first players who don’t seem to have many avenues to everyday action.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a need, however, and the nature of the shortstop market should put Jose Iglesias within reach.
Though the defensive metrics don’t rate Iglesias as highly as the eye test, they still qualify him as a well-above-average defensive shortstop. And though he offers little in the way of on-base or slugging talent, he’s at least gotten by with a solid .270 batting average.
A multiyear deal for Iglesias will probably cost safely under $10 million per season. Because their $73.3 million projection for 2019 is light even by the franchise’s standards, that should be doable for the Pirates.
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The San Diego Padres added a much-needed infielder when they signed Ian Kinsler. Yet, he’s no help to the left side of their infield, which features iffy situations at both shortstop and third base.
Marwin Gonzalez is a solution for one or both.
Though the 29-year-old offers a solid bat—see his .766 OPS since 2014—just as valuable is his versatile glove. He’s logged significant time at all four infield positions, plus left field.
On the Padres, Gonzalez could fill in at short until top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is ready. Then he could move to third, with cameos wherever he might be needed on a given day.
The Padres have indeed considered Gonzalez, according to Dennis Lin of The Athletic. With only $83.5 million on their 2019 books, they can sign him for $10 or $11 million per year without going far outside their comfort zone.
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From the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell exactly what new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has in mind for the San Francisco Giants.
Sooner or later, however, Zaidi will need to address an outfield that lacks even one tried-and-true everyday player. Rather than sacrifice big bucks and a draft pick to sign Pollock, the Giants would be wiser to settle for Nick Markakis on what would likely be a modest one-year deal.
The 35-year-old was an All-Star and Silver Slugger for the first time in 2018, and a Gold Glover for the third time. These accomplishments overstate his value by quite a bit, but they’re nonetheless a window into the solid offense and defense Markakis can provide on an everyday basis in right field.
That’s where Markakis could line up opposite Chris Shaw and Steven Duggar. As it happens, Giants assistant hitting coach Rick Schu would like to see Duggar take after Markakis.
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Rather than go into a full-on rebuild, the Seattle Mariners have undergone something more akin to a makeover. If not competitive, they seem to at least want to be watchable in 2019.
To this end, they’d do well to add a reliever with a bit more promise as a closer than either Anthony Swarzak or Cory Gearrin. Bud Norris could be perfect.
After running out of gas as a starter in 2016, Norris has mostly found success as a late-inning reliever over the last two seasons. The 33-year-old has managed a 3.91 ERA with a 10.6 K/9, and he was solid closing games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018.
Norris figures to be cheaper on a one-year deal than, say, Allen. That works for the Mariners, who surely don’t want to push their 2019 payroll much higher than the $156.7 million it’s at.
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The St. Louis Cardinals are mostly set for 2019, but MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch noted that they’d like to add another veteran reliever on top of Andrew Miller.
Ryan Madson could be right up their alley.
The 38-year-old right-hander is coming off a disappointing 5.47 ERA in 2018, not to mention a series of high-profile blunders in the Dodgers’ loss to the Red Sox in the World Series. He was one of the best relievers in MLB as recently as 2017, however, and his talent for avoiding contact is going strong.
There’s also the matter of Madson’s value, which is likely only good enough for a small guarantee and incentives in a one-year deal. That should suit the Cardinals. At $162.7 million for 2019, they’re already set for a franchise-record payroll for 2019.
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After missing out on Nelson Cruz, the Tampa Bay Rays’ best hope of adding a right-handed slugger is on the trade market. Edwin Encarnacion (Seattle) and Jose Martinez (St. Louis) are out there for the taking.
There is one option on the free-agent market for the Rays to consider, however: Evan Gattis.
The 32-year-old is only a designated hitter at this point, but that’s exactly what the Rays are in the market for. It may be good enough for him that he’s averaged a .775 OPS and 23 homers per season since 2013, with a peak of an .826 OPS and 32 homers with Houston in 2016.
A one-year deal for Gattis would likely only cost the Rays a couple of million dollars guaranteed plus incentives. With about $20 million in space between their 2019 projection and their 2018 opening, even they can easily afford that.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
Based on their additions of Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Drew Smyly and Patrick Wisdom, the Texas Rangers’ plan is to load up on guys who have something to prove and see what happens in 2019 and beyond.
Their bullpen could use a guy with a chip on his shoulder to help support Jose Leclerc and Jesse Chavez. Of all the options on the open market, Brad Brach fits the bill.
After pitching to a 2.74 ERA between 2014 and 2017, Brach stumbled with a 4.85 ERA out of the gate with the Orioles in 2018. With the help of some extra fastball velocity, he recovered to the tune of a 1.52 ERA following a July trade to the Braves.
Brach, 32, could serve the Rangers as a setup man or an emergency closer. That makes him worth a roll of the dice that should max out at $15 million or so over two years.
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The Toronto Blue Jays have gone low-risk (e.g., Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard) in filling out their starting rotation. But they have plenty of money to invest in somebody more solid.
Gio Gonzalez, for example.
Gonzalez, 33, has twice been an All-Star, and he was a Cy Young Award contender as recently as 2017. For the most part, he’s reliable. Since 2010, an average season for him includes a 3.49 ERA and 187 innings.
Gonzalez is probably looking at a two-year deal worth around $25 million. That wouldn’t seem to make sense for a rebuilder like the Blue Jays, but they’re not doomed to a long stretch of futility. They have a decent core of young talent now, and uber-prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will join in 2019. A return to contention in 2020 is possible, especially if they add Gonzalez beforehand.
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Harper’s return to the Nationals once seemed like the longest of long shots. According to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, however, “there is momentum building” for it to happen.
After adding Patrick Corbin, Dozier, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki, Matt Adams, Anibal Sanchez, Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough, the Nationals are already equipped to improve on their disappointing 82-win 2018. If they bring back the 2015 NL MVP, the entire National League will be on notice.
With less than $4 million in wiggle room, the Nationals can’t sign Harper and stay under the luxury tax. However, even a $40 million-per-year deal for him wouldn’t put them over the $246 million red line. They could cut costs after 2019, when they’re due to have a fair deal of money free up.
Re-signing Harper at this point would be a bold move, all right. But if it leads to the franchise’s first World Series victory, the Nats wouldn’t regret it.