By the time the 2021 season rolls around, the Nationals will look different.
With the latest series of moves coming Wednesday, Washington opened its offseason by declining to pick up 2021 options on veterans Adam Eaton, Aníbal Sánchez, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames.
It doesn’t mean the Nationals won’t re-sign those players to more club-friendly deals once free agency begins — the team did that last year with catcher Yan Gomes after declining his option — but the decision could signal a changing of the guard in D.C.
Eaton, Sánchez, Kendrick and Thames join Ryan Zimmerman, Sean Doolittle, Kurt Suzuki, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Brock Holt as free agents. That slew of players leaving allows general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez room to operate in the market, perhaps looking for a big bat who could help replace the loss of Anthony Rendon last offseason.
Eaton, who the Nationals acquired in a trade in 2016 that saw three prospects — including starting pitcher Lucas Giolito — join the Chicago White Sox, underperformed in the 60-game season. The 31-year-old right fielder hit .226 with four home runs after hitting .279 during the World Series run.
His option was worth $10.5 million, and the Nationals will instead pay him a $1.5 million buyout, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks contracts across sports. Eaton’s presence in the lineup did little to protect Juan Soto and Trea Turner this season, Washington’s two best hitters — both of whom hit above .300 in 2020.
Thames also underachieved, brought in as a platoon first baseman with power yet unable to find the success he did with the Milwaukee Brewers. Thames hit .203 with three longballs in the shortened campaign, warranting Washington to decline his $4 million mutual option.
Kendrick’s season ended on the injured list, nursing a hamstring strain. It’s unclear if he’d come back even if the Nationals wanted the 37-year-old to return, telling reporters in September he was considering retirement.
Washington declined his $6.5 million mutual option, but if Kendrick is open to returning, the team would get an experienced batter and a respected clubhouse member who has produced some memorable moments since joining in 2017. Kendrick slapped the go-ahead two-run homer in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. Earlier in the postseason, he launched a grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
And with Zimmerman, Doolittle, Sánchez and Suzuki all entering free agency, a key contingent of the team that lifted the World Series trophy in 2019 could be done in Washington. It leaves a club with plenty of work to do this offseason, searching for pitching, a power bat and perhaps a catcher.
According to the oddsmakers at Sports Betting Dime, Soto could be primed for an MVP-caliber season, with 11/1 odds of winning the NL MVP award. But away from Soto and Turner, the betting company doesn’t fancy the Nationals to achieve a second championship in a three-year span, listing them at 30/1 odds to win the World Series — the 12th best odds.
However, in 2019, Washington sat at 19-31. And we all know how that ended.
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