The Nationals, in true Nationals fashion, have been more busy during the lockout than they were pre-lockout. Over the past week, we saw the Nats ink both Dee Strange-Gordon and Maikel Franco to minor league deals. These were definitely some interesting deals, but most importantly they add some depth to a team that has absolutely none.
Strange-Gordon, a 2-time all-star and 2015 NL Batting Champ, has not played in the big leagues since 2020. In a 33-games with the Seattle Mariners in 2020, Strange-Gordon slashed .200/.268/.213 with a .482 OPS and a 42 wRC+. He had 1 extra base hit in all 33 games, a double. Strange-Gordon has been the polar opposite of a power hitter throughout his career, but regardless these numbers are atrocious. In the field, he had -2 DRS. Yeah, no offense to Dee, but it’s pretty easy to see why he couldn’t land a Major League job in 2021, in fact he bounced around 3 NL Central AAA affiliates with the Brewers, Pirates, and Cubs. The numbers there weren’t particularly impressive either.
Maikel Franco: a name Nats and especially Mets fans know all too well. The former top Phillies prospect seemed to have countless clutch moments against the Nats and just straight up owns the New York Mets franchise, but stunk against every other team. Franco showed flashes of being a solid MLB player during his time in Philadelphia and was notoriously dubbed the “best 8-hole hitter in baseball” after he was the hottest hitter in the league during the first couple weeks of the 2019 season. However, Franco just ultimately couldn’t put it together in Philadelphia which lead to his non-tendering after 2019. The Royals took a flier on Franco during the Mickey Mouse season, and he played pretty well with them. Franco played in all 60 games and slashed .278/.321/.427 with a .778 OPS and a 106 wRC+. He had 8 home runs and 16 doubles. Those aren’t bad numbers whatsoever, but the problem is he significantly regressed the following year with the Orioles. In 104 games with Baltimore in 2021, Franco slashed .210/.253/.355 with a .609 OPS and a 62 wRC+. I mean, just an absolutely massive step back from a decent year in 2020. Franco has also been a notoriously horrible defender, with a -36 career DRS and -8 DRS in 2021 alone. Like Strange-Gordon, it’s not hard to see why Franco couldn’t land a Major League gig for 2022.
The good news about both these guys is that again, they’re both minor league signings and there’s a real shot that they don’t even crack the Nats Opening Day Roster. Like I already said previously, this seems like depth for the majority. However, I believe both these guys will have a shot to earn a job in Spring Training, and that tells me the Nats may not be sold on handing Luis Garcia and especially Carter Kieboom starting jobs on Opening Day. While the Nats do have Josh Bell entrenched at first base and César Hernandez likely being the starting second baseman, they have multiple names to pick from for the left side of the infield. In addition to Garcia, Kieboom, Franco, and Strange-Gordon, the Nats also have Alcides Escobar (barf) in competition for a spot. There also exists the possibility that the Nats could sign another veteran infielder or two, either on a minors deal or a majors deal when the lockout is lifted.
The thinking here seems to be that the Nats want Garcia and Kieboom to be the Opening Day shortstop and third baseman, but most importantly they want them to prove they can handle it in Spring Training. If this is the case and both earn their jobs, Escobar already has a spot on the bench and Franco and Strange-Gordon could still compete for one themselves. I sincerely hope Garcia and Kieboom can prove enough to earn their jobs, because watching guys like Escobar, Strange-Gordon, and Franco get starts for a team that is already projected to be horrible next season would be quite depressing. The most exciting part of a rebuild is seeing your young guys figure it out at the Major League level, and it really stinks when you have to bring in the washed or just straight up historically terrible veterans in to replace them if they can’t handle it. The names the Nats currently have in their infield group are extremely uninspiring, but again you can’t complain about any minors signing because they essentially don’t matter whatsoever. It is all about accumulating depth and having some backup plans to unproven prospects. However, with all due respect to Strange-Gordon and Franco, let’s hope we do not see them starting at the Major League level on Opening Day next season and rather we have some exciting young guys to enjoy.