It was late in the off-season last year when the Nationals gave up their first round pick to sign Rafael Soriano. That move made sense. The Nationals were trying to replace Sean Burnett and had whiffed on every left handed reliever they’d tried to sign and if they couldn’t upgrade the bullpen in the manner they wanted they were simply going to upgrade it. Soriano was the best reliever on the market and at the time it looked like the Nationals were going to have closer level relief pitchers in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. As long as one of their solid starting pitchers could go six and the offense could score enough to give them the lead the game was over. That isn’t ultimately what happened, but it was a move that made a lot of sense at the time. The same cannot be said for the remaining draft pick compensation free agents but let’s explore each case individually.
Heading into his age 31 season with a .813 career OPS and a history of season ending injuries Kendrys Morales doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Nationals. For the people that want to replace LaRoche with anyone he is the name they’ve chosen but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. His career .813 OPS is just .002 points higher than LaRoche’s career OPS and Morales has not reached his career OPS in either of his last two seasons. There is also the defense to consider and Morales isn’t a great defender at first or in the outfield. He fits in on an AL team on a one year deal to DH, but with the draft pick tied to him it has been hard for him to find a job and Seattle has too many first basemen/DH types as is. The Nationals could use him as a bench bat as he is a pinch hitter but his inability to back up third and the fact that the draft pick is tied to him makes him the worst overall choice of the remaining draft pick compensation players.
Heading into his age 33 season Nelson Cruz makes slightly more sense for the Nationals. He would make a lot more sense though if the Nationals didn’t have Denard Span. Cruz’s career OPS of .823 is much better than Span’s but Cruz on defense would make Nats fans have flashbacks to the days of Michael Morse or Adam Dunn in the outfield. While the Nationals would score more runs with Cruz in left and Harper in center they would also allow more runs. Losing Span’s defense is not something the Nationals want to do unless they can replace him with at least an adequate defender and Cruz is not that. The offensive upgrade exists for Cruz which makes him make some sense for the Nationals but that is counter balanced by the defensive downgrade and it would give the Nationals a confusing bench with both Span and McLouth. In the total balance of scoring more runs than allowed it would be around equal to where the Nationals are now and giving up a draft pick to tread water is not a good idea.
If there was no draft pick tied to Santana and if Bronson Arroyo and AJ Burnett didn’t exist Ervin Santana would be a nice late off-season pick up for the Nationals. It should be mentioned here that the only reason the Nationals would even be in the running for Santana is because of the draft pick. Reports are he still wants $60 million and four years down from his $100 million demands of earlier in the off-season. He is going to get neither as most teams believe they can find a 4.19 ERA pitcher within their own system quite easily and between Detwiler, Roark, Ohlendorf, Jordan, and Karns the Nats can do that as well, and that would be their fifth starter. If the Nationals are concerned about health and getting those fifth starter innings from one guy then they could simply sign Arroyo or Burnett to one year deals and never have to even mess with the thought of giving up a draft pick for Ervin Santana.
Jimenez is a very interesting free agent with more risk than the draft pick, but if he can return to his first half of 2010 or second half of 2013 form then he is well worth that first round pick. At his best the only pitcher the Nationals have with stuff and results close to Jimenez is Strasburg, but for most of his career Jimenez hasn’t been at his best. When Jimenez has his control there are few pitchers better and if he were that pitcher more consistently he wouldn’t just already be signed he could have broken the free agent record Zack Greinke broke last season. Without the pick Jimenez would be a risk because of his inconsistency, but add in the pick and it makes the risk that much greater and too much for a team with the starting pitching depth of the Nationals, and this doesn’t even mention that Jimenez has struggled not just with consistency but injuries over the last few seasons and that keeps him below both Arroyo and Burnett when it comes to free agent starters.
Last off-season Stephen Drew realized he was no longer a starting position player and signed with Boston to serve as their utility infielder, but ended up outperforming his role and ended up as the starting short stop for the World Series champions. This inspired Drew to turn down the qualifying offer and test the free agent market. So far he has failed that test. The team rumored to be the most likely landing spot, the St. Louis Cardinals, went in a different direction with Jhonny Peralta and now Drew is still sitting on the free agent market. For the Nationals Drew makes the most sense of any of the free agents. He has ties to Rizzo from his Arizona days, Scott Boras is his agent, and the Nationals biggest remaining need is a utility infielder. The only reason Drew would even consider coming to the Nationals in this role is because of the draft pick that is tied to him. No one else has shown a bit of interest, and that is understandable. .764 OPS 31 year olds aren’t worth giving up a draft pick for.
That is of course unless they are the final piece to World Series aspirations. If Ian Desmond gets hurt the Nationals currently have no backup plan. It is hard enough to replace a shortstop that has been worth 5.0 fWAR over the last two seasons, but when replacing that player with a Danny Espinosa who many never hit major league pitching again or an unproven Zack Walters is a scary thought. There is also a giant gap of pain waiting for the Nationals should Anthony Rendon suffer a sophomore slump or Danny Espinosa not be fully healthy. If either of those two things happen Drew is well worth the first round pick, but if not then he is at most an upgrade of one win as a pinch hitter/bench player. It is probably not worth giving up a first round pick for a one win upgrade, but of the draft pick compensation free agents remaining Stephen Drew is the one that makes sense, and if something does go wrong that draft pick starts to look more and more like a unneeded luxury.