Another season, another heartbreaking NLDS exit. The good news: The Nationals have few free agents and could look remarkably similar next season. The bad news: The Nationals have few free agents and could look remarkably similar next season.
Seriously, though, the lineup is loaded with young stars like Bryce Harper and Trea Turner, and the rotation still features a perennial Cy Young Award candidate in Max Scherzer and a promising youngster in Tanner Roark. But it’s another rotation member who tops Washington’s offseason to-do list:
Somehow solve the Strasburg frustration
The 2016 season started so well for Stephen Strasburg; he was 10-0 with a 2.90 ERA on June 15. Then came a trip to the disabled list because of a lat strain. After returning, he improved to 15-1 with a 2.63 ERA by Aug. 1. Then came a string of terrible starts and some dreaded elbow discomfort that resulted in his eighth career trip to the DL. His attempted return on Sept. 7 lasted 2.1 innings, and he never threw another pitch. His absence in this year’s NLDS was glaring, just as it was in 2012.
But, really, what’s the solution? Skipping starts? Limiting his innings? Not activating him until Sept. 1? The Nationals just signed him to a seven-year, $175 million extension in May, so they’re invested in him for nearly another decade. Good luck.
Clear up the catching situation
The timing of Wilson Ramos’ ACL/meniscus tear was brutal for the Nationals and the catcher, who is hitting the free-agent market as he rehabs. That actually could prove favorable for Washington if it can convince Ramos to sign a team-friendly, incentive-laden deal. Ramos, who tore the same ACL in 2012, is coming off a career year (22 homers, 80 RBI, .850 OPS) and was sure to draw plenty of interest – and still might – in a predictably thin free-agent catcher market.
One intriguing and local free-agent option for the Nationals should they move on from Ramos: Matt Wieters. And a potential trade target: Brian McCann.
Show Melancon the money
Acquired at the deadline this summer, Mark Melancon converted 17 of his 18 save chances and posted a 8.2 K/9 ratio with Washington. He stabilized a bullpen that has battled everything from inconsistency (Drew Storen) to infighting (Jonathan Papelbon) in recent seasons. Since 2014, Melancon is first in the majors in saves (131), third in save percentage (92.9) and fifth in WHIP (0.90) among relievers. He won’t turn 32 until March, so age isn’t a huge issue.
Even in a deep free-agent reliever market, the Nationals should re-up with Melancon, who will come cheaper than fellow free agents Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.