The Nationals cleared one more spot off their 40-man roster Monday night when they decided to non-tender left-handed reliever Doug Slaten.
The move was not a surprise given Slaten’s 2011 season and the fact that he was most likely in line for a modest raise through the arbitration process. Slaten’s a free agent now, preparing to see what other options he has in the major leagues and the Nationals, in a way, are doing the same thing.
There were several players who hit the free agent market late Monday night that could certainly interest the Nationals, particularly as they look to rebuild their bench.
Without further ado, here are a few options that appeared for the Nationals after the non-tender deadline:
INF Ryan Theriot: When the Cardinals signed Skip Schumaker to a two-year deal it likely made Theriot expendable to the reigning World Series champs but Theriot may be one of the most desirable non-tender players out there right now. He’s a versatile infielder who hit .271 with a .321 on-base percentage in 2011 playing mostly shortstop and second base but he has the ability to also play third, left field and right field making him a fit as a possible right-handed bat off the bench and backup infielder/outfielder for the Nationals. It’s a small sample size, but Theriot was also 3-for-12 with two doubles, a triple, two walks and one strikeout as a pinch hitter and he hit’s left-handers well (.310 in 2011) so he’d fit the Nationals criteria in that manner. However, Theriot is not a power hitter. He slugged just .342 in 2011 so he wouldn’t appear to be the type of “hairy-chested” guy that Nationals manager Davey Johnson wants at the end of the bench but he would be a capable hand to have on deck.
Theriot made $3.3 million in 2011.
INF Jeff Keppinger: The Nationals were in Houston when Keppinger was traded to the San Francisco Giants this past summer and at the time it felt like Washington was catching a break. Keppinger hit .307 with a .320 on-base percentage in 43 games for the Astros but those numbers took a dive when he went north. In San Francisco he hit just .255 with a .285 on-base percentage. Keppinger fits the versatility requirement the Nationals want for their bench (he can play shortstop, third base, second base, first base, left field and right field. His total numbers for the year aren’t too ugly but he, like Theriot, doesn’t have much power and wouldn’t fit that bill for Washington.
Keppinger made $2.3 million in 2011.
OF Ryan Spilborghs: A right-handed outfielder, Spilborghs had a terrible 2011 season. He hit .210, got on-base at a .283 clip and slugged just .305 in the hitter friendly Colorado air — but those numbers were well below his career averages: .273 AVG/.345 OBP/.423 SLG. He also doesn’t possess as much power as the Nationals desire, hitting just three homers in 2011.
Spilborghs made $3.25 million in 2011.
OF Luke Scott: People in the area are most likely already familiar with Scott. He’s a quirky guy (anyone who remembers his birth-certificate quotes from the 2010 winter meetings will probably concede as much) but before a labrum injury derailed his 2011 season he was also a pretty good outfielder. Scott won the Orioles’ team MVP award in 2010, a year he hit .283 with a .368 on-base percentage and slugged 27 homers — his third straight 20-plus home run season. He suffered the same issue as Adam LaRoche in his right labrum this past season and underwent SLAP repair surgery. He’s been given a clean bill of health but his price tag was skyrocketing and the Orioles simply weren’t prepared to go any higher with an injury question mark. Scott bats left-handed so he wouldn’t be the perfect compliment to LaRoche at first base (which is what Johnson has said they’re looking for) but has experience in both corner outfield positions and can play first and, at least when healthy, he’d be the type of power hitter the Nationals have been looking for.
Scott made $6.4 million in 2011.
INF Brooks Conrad: Perhaps best remembered for a nightmarish game in the 2010 playoffs, Conrad came off the bench for the Braves last year and played second base, shortstop and first base. Conrad is an interesting case. A switch hitter, he hasn’t even hit his arbitration years yet and won’t be eligible to until after next season. He was significantly better when he hit left-handed in 2011, .292 AVG, .393 OBP, .500 SLG, compared to .203 AVG, .304 OBP, .354 SLG when hitting right-handed. His overall numbers in 2010, when he played in 103 games, weren’t bad (.250/.324/.487) but there are no guarantees he’d be playing in anywhere close to that many games if the Nationals were to pick him up. He’s also out of options so they’d have to take that into consideration when agreeing to terms. Still, he’s a player they could add who’s young enough to still have some potential for improvement and has experience in a bench role.
Conrad made $417,000 in 2011.
LHP Joe Saunders: After missing out on Mark Buehrle on the free agent market, it’d be difficult to see the Nationals viewing Saunders as comparable alternative. Quite simply, he’s not as good as Buehrle. He did, however, have a very good year for the Diamondbacks, going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA and throwing 212 innings. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was 1.307 in 2011, the lowest it’s been in his career. He’s a very attractive non-tender candidate and there should be plenty of suitors for his services. There was some buzz about Saunders and the Diamondbacks working out a deal during the winter meetings but Arizona was also reportedly trying to move him. Neither came to fruition and, in essence, Saunders priced himself out of work with the Diamondbacks. He’s a local kid, though, born in Falls Church and went to high school in Springfield, VA. The Nationals could make a play for his services but with John Lannan and Ross Detwiler in the chute right now if there’s stiff competition for Saunders and the price is driven up the Nationals may prefer to stick with what they’ve got.
Saunders made $5.5 million in 2011.