Why the Washington Nationals Could get Pujols

Call me a homer, call me delusional, or even call me a moron. I honestly think the Nationals have a very good shot at signing Albert Pujols this offseason. And you know what, it would be a great fit.

This season the Nationals took a giant step forward winning 11 more games than last year, falling one game short of .500 due to the weather (one game against the Dodgers was rained out and never made up). Next year could be even better with a healthy squad and a marquee name like Pujols joining the clubhouse.

Last year they made major improvements with their main offseason aquisition Jayson Werth batting for a .232 average and only 58 RBI. They managed to be at or near .500 for 58 games with their best player Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list. Their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, was on the DL for majority of the season, was only able to play in five games, and went 1-1. They tried to fill the void left by Adam Dunn with Adam LaRoche, who played in only 43 games and was far from good during that period.

All those struggles, compounded with the midseason quitting of manager Jim Riggleman, and yet the Nationals still ended the season only 9.5 games out of the playoffs.

Why wouldn’t Pujols want to join a squad on the rise like that?

Why he is a great fit:

I shouldn’t have to explain why adding the best player in baseball is a no-brainer for any team, but I will show why it is an especially good idea for Washington.

With Pujols in the lineup, the Nationals would have a great shot at the Wild Card, and even the division.

Already their infield is one of the best in the National League, and with so much young talent it is only going to get better. The only position really needing outside infusion is at first base.

  • Catcher: Two years ago the Nats sent Matt Capps to Minneapolis in exchange for catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Since then Ramos has succeeded Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, played exceptional defense, and hit .267 with 15 HR while staying healthy all season.
  • Third base: Ryan Zimmerman won his first Gold Glove two years ago and has to be one of the top third basemen in the league. He can hit, play defense, and is a great clubhouse leader.
  • Second base: Danny Espinosa lead all rookies in home runs, even with a massive power outage after the All-Star break. Ultimately he won’t get Rookie of the Year, but he will still get plenty of votes and is a versatile defender. With Stephen Lombardozzi’s play during his September call-up, Espinosa could slide over to his natural position of shortstop if need be.
  • Shortstop: Two years ago Ian Desmond was an error machine but had enough offense to make up for it. There was so much upside and hope, that the Nats didn’t want to include him in trades for Matt Garza, Zack Greinke or B.J. Upton. Since then he has floundered a bit, but with Espinosa looking over his shoulder, Desmond could either be the player he is supposed to or be moved for an extra pitcher or two without causing the Nats to miss a beat.

In the outfield there are some promising pieces that will only improve if guys like Roger Bernadina can step up or if Bryce Harper becomes the player he is advertised to be.

  • Right Field: Jayson Werth has not been the best signing the Nationals have ever made, but thinking he was going to come in and be an offensive star should never have been on anyone’s mind. Werth has always made his money being an above-average to good defensive player while being the fourth best option offensively. Protect him, like he was in Philadelphia with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and you will see his value improve. With only Zimmeran and Mike Morse that isn’t going to happen, but with Pujols in the lineup, we could see a jump in Werth’s numbers.
  • Left Field: Probably the brightest spot of a good season in Washington was Mike Morse. He came into the season battling it out for a spot in the line-up and after an injury to LaRoche he shifted to first base and came alive. Morse finished the year with 31 HR, a .303 average, and 95 RBI. Given another season with more protection those numbers could jump dramatically putting him in serious MVP talks.
  • Center Field: Right now this is definitely the weakest position for the Nationals. The Rick Ankiel/Bernadina combo never really got things going offensively, but still had their share of great plays defensively. Ultimately the plan is for Werth to switch over to center field once Harper is called up and put in right. For now these two adequately fill the position.

Offensively you can see this is a squad full of potential that just needs a true slugger to make it all click. Plus Pujols’ above average defense would help cut down on Desmond’s errors making it an even more solid defensive unit.

Of course a team isn’t just hitting and fielding, pitching is just as, if not more, important. Luckily for the Nationals, they have a stellar staff that seems primed for a big run.

Pitching Staff:

  • Stephen Strasburg
    • It’s no secret people think Strasburg is the next big thing. Unfortunately next year his inning count will have a limit, but that can be worked around. As long as he is healthy he will be one of the best pitchers in the league who has no problem being the number one in Washington.
  • Jordan Zimmermann
    • Last year Zimmermann didn’t have a great win-loss total, but he still managed to put together a solid year in his first full post-Tommy John season. He had a 6.82 K/ 9 IP and a 1.15 WHIP. One day he may be able to be the lead of a rotation, but for now, having him as the number two after Strasburg is quite nice.
  • Brad Peacock
    • Peacock went 15-3 in the minors last year before being called up. Upon his arrival, he maintained his torrid pace going 2-0 in two starts with a 0.75 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. If he can keep it up next year, he may be a front runner for Rookie of the Year.
  • John Lannan
    • Lannan never has and never will be a star, but if he can build on the last couple years then he will be a solid number four starter. Last year he managed to win 10 games for the first time in his career and kept his ERA under 4.00 with over 100 strikeouts. At worst he duplicates last year with an offense in front of him, and at best he brings up what could be one of the strongest rotations in baseball.
  • Tyler Clippard
    • Clippard has been everything you could want from a set-up man. Last year he was the lone National’s representative in the All-Star game and finished the year with a 3-0 record and 38 holds. Keeping him makes it easier for the next person on the list.
  • Drew Storen
    • In his second full season as a pro, Storen posted a 6-3 record with 43 saves in 48 attempts. Before the trade deadline he was dangled as potential trade bait for Denard Span or B.J. Upton, but ultimately the Nationals stood their ground. As long as Storen doesn’t lose his touch, fourth in the NL in saves will be more than enough.

Why he would want to come:

Note: I started to write this before the Cardinals made their miracle run to and through the playoffs, but I still think that if they won’t give him the years he is looking for and therefore are not strong favorites to keep him. 

Outside of a great young team he would be joining, there are other reasons Pujols might want to don the curly “W” next season. In fact I can think of around 300 million reasons he will seriously consider it.

Last year the Nationals gave right fielder Jayson Werth the sixth richest free agent contract for position players in the history of baseball. Before that they gave Stephen Strasburg the biggest rookie contract ever and followed it up with Harper’s record breaking deal for a non-pitcher. That all means the obvious, Washington is not afraid to shell out the money.

Currently Pujols is looking for a 10-year $300 million deal, and the Cardinals don’t seem amenable to it. In Spring Training St. Louis tried to negotiate and extension that was ultimately shot down, and although exact figures aren’t known, it was believed to be an issue of contract length. The Cardinals were unwilling to give Pujols a 10-year deal, opting instead to offer one around six years.

It may be a rational thought to balk at such a high number from St. Louis’ perspective because there is no way Pujols will justify that kind of money in six or seven years, and the last three or four years of the contract will seemingly seem like a waste. But Albert has stuck with the team for less money than less talented players have received elsewhere and it is time for his due.

That is where the Nationals come in. If they were willing to give the sixth best player on the Phillies such a rich deal, then why not do that for the best player in the game today? Of course he won’t be productive in his final years of the deal, but Washington would be paying for the next few years which is when they are primed to be best.

Even if Ted Lerner finds his pockets aren’t that deep with the payroll as it stands right now, surely he can shed some of his payload by moving guys like Desmond, LaRoche, Lannan, or, if at all possible, Werth. As long as it doesn’t cost the Nationals Zimmerman, Strasburg, Espinosa or Ramos then they should do all they can to reel in Pujols.

If the Nationals can get to Pujols’ high figure and the Cardinals can’t, then who better to sign with? The rebuilding Cubs? In other years Boston or New York could be in the mix, but having given out huge contracts to Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira in the past few years they are out of it.

So with all that said, the basic thing is that the Nationals can afford Pujols. They can offer him a team built from the ground up with young talent on offense and defense that is ready to win. So why not?

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