Signed IF-L Stephen Drew to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. [1/26]
Signed 1B-L Adam Lind to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. [2/13]
Signed RHP Joe Blanton to a one-year, $4 million contract. [2/28]
If at first you can’t succeed, try acquiring guys who were at their best eight or nine years ago.
After missing out on both the second round of the playoffs and a couple of their reported top free agent targets, the Nationals have made several late-in-the-game signings targeting improved depth and papering over the team’s weak points. While Matt Trueblood documented the Derek Norris trade and I’ve covered Matt Wieters and their replacement of Wilson Ramos, there are three other moves that speak to the Nationals' attempts to spend on veterans and finally push to the NLCS: Blanton provides a solid relief arm, while Drew and Lind are the last men on a middling bench.
Blanton has a little in common with his namesake bourbon, in that the aging process has resulted in something a little sweet. The move to a full-time bullpen role resulted in the veteran right-hander throwing harder than ever and striking out more hitters than ever. PECOTA projects him to be a better-than-average reliever in short work, with an ERA up a little higher than 2016’s unsustainably low 2.48.
Though the Nationals were reportedly targeting a different former Dodgers relief ace in Kenley Jansen, Blanton has flashed enough talent after his late-career switch to relief. Last season saw him work as an extreme fly-ball pitcher, but Blanton will be exactly the kind of boom-or-bust late-game reliever who'll make fans angry a few times but shore up those seventh and eighth innings.
Drew had a surge in power and production last year in Washington, and that was enough to give him a cushy one-year deal as a reward despite a few down years prior to 2016. While the Florida State product has always carried more power than your average shortstop, last year's .524 slugging percentage and eight homers in 165 plate appearances is far beyond what reasonable minds should expect from the backup infielder.
His defense is a bit iffy in general, but if Drew can claim just a few dingers more than his career line he’d be a more than adequate backup for Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner up the middle, at least until a few hard-hit grounders run to his right.
After three years of relatively consistent performances in Toronto and Milwaukee, Lind absolutely cratered in Seattle last season. It’s kind of understandable as Lind seems to wax and wane to the whims of his balky back. When he’s on, he batters right-handers, reaching base at a career .347 clip despite mediocre walk numbers; he can really hit. Since he’s slow and not a great defender, if the bat’s not happening he’s a complete value suck.
Last year? His value sucked quite a bit. If he could possibly recapture his previous ability to beat up on right-handed pitching, you could see him working into a more traditional platoon with Ryan Zimmerman, shoring up the weakest hole in an already scary lineup. It’d be nice to see him mash a few dingers and raise his OBP over last year, lest he only be remembered in 2017 for the most talked about wisp of smoke since the first season of LOST.
These three moves paired with the Wieters acquisition are telling: the Nationals are very serious about addressing their depth after perhaps failing to sign bigger-name players earlier in the offseason. And this depth-heavy approach runs right in line with what the rest of the big players in the National League—specifically the Cubs and the Dodgers—are going for as well.
Instead of bringing in a single player like Michael Saunders or Mike Napoli at roughly the same cost of acquisition, the Nats are trying to wrangle a couple of projected wins out of three guys: a reliever and maybe 400 plate appearances. It could work. It could fail miserably. But at least Mike Rizzo and company didn't let the failure to sign Jansen or Yoenis Cespedes keep them from trying to improve.