The Washington Nationals have been relatively quiet in free agency this season with Kyle Schwarber being their most prominent signing. In the trade market, they traded for Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell last month in exchange for Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. However, Mike Rizzo and Company haven’t been afraid to make big-time splashes in the offseason since the franchise moved from Montreal in 2005. Because of these moves, and willingness to spend from ownership, the Nationals have become a perennial playoff contender, adding a World Series banner along the way. While the Nationals have been known for their scouting, attributed to Mike Rizzo’s background, there have been quite a few instances where Washington looked to sign a premier free agent or part ways with prospects to garner a “win-now” trade piece. Here are the top five offseason Washington Nationals acquisitions since 2005.
The Washington Nationals Best Offseason Acquisitions since 2005
5. Daniel Murphy
There were questions whether Daniel Murphy’s historic postseason run in 2015 was an aberration or if he found something long-term in the New York Mets’ World Series run. The 2015 NLCS MVP hit seven home runs while leading the Mets to their first World Series since 2000. The Washington Nationals signed the second baseman to a three-year, $37.5 million contract the following winter.
Murphy was nothing short of spectacular throughout his Nationals tenure. In 2016, Murphy batted .347 with 25 home runs and an NL-leading 47 doubles. A point of contention for Nationals fans in 2016 was Murphy missing out on the batting title as D.J. LeMahieu won by .001 points after sitting out the final game of the season. Murphy still finished second in MVP voting. Then Murphy won his second consecutive Silver Slugger in 2017 as he batted .322 with an NL-leading 43 doubles. He was part of the insanely talented 2017 lineup that saw Bryce Harper in line for another MVP award until suffering a knee injury and Ryan Zimmerman having a career resurgence with 36 home runs.
Finally, Murphy was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the 2018 season after batting .300 up until that point. Two Silver Sluggers were more than what the Nationals hoped for when they signed Murphy, landing him fifth on this list.
4. Trea Turner
In one of Mike Rizzo’s best trades, the Washington Nationals acquired Trea Turner and Joe Ross from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Steven Souza Jr, who went to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal. Although Ross has also been a fine acquisition, Trea Turner has emerged as a premier shortstop after being the player to be named later in this trade.
Turner came onto the scene in 2016, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting despite playing only 73 games. He batted .342 and stole 33 bases. From 2017-2019, Turner cooled off after being called an MVP candidate by many. But Turner was still an excellent player. He posted a .283 batting average over these seasons, slugging 49 home runs and swiping 124 bases. Turner finally had his breakout year in the abbreviated 2020 season. Finishing seventh in MVP voting, Turner led the majors in hits (78) and batted .335 while hitting 12 home runs and stealing 12 bases.
Turner will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023 but has been well worth the investment for the Nationals.
3. Jayson Werth
When Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2011, the Washington Nationals became major players in the postseason. After failing to sign Mark Teixeira in 2008, the Nationals finally made their free agency splash in 2011. Werth may be more of a symbolic place on this list as he may not have the stats of Daniel Murphy or Trea Turner, but Werth had his moments in the Nation’s capital. Following a down year in 2011, Werth put together three excellent seasons in DC. Despite missing half the season due to wrist surgery in 2012, Werth had one of the franchise’s most iconic moments with his walk-off home run in Game Four of the 2012 NLDS. In 2013 and 2014, he batted .304 with a .396 OBP and 41 home runs.
On a relatively young team, Werth was a “culture setter” for the Nationals and well-respected in the clubhouse. Although he struggled in his last three seasons with the Nationals, Jayson Werth was one of the key individuals who put the Nationals on the baseball map.
2. Gio Gonzalez
Following an 80-81 third-place finish in the NL East, Mike Rizzo made it a priority to add a front-line starting pitcher into the mix. The Nationals traded Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, and Derek Norris to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for left-handed starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez was an All-Star the previous season, going 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA.
While his postseason resume was not the best in Washington, Gonzalez was an excellent addition to the Nationals. In his first season, Gonzalez was superb as he finished third in Cy Young voting after winning 21 games and posting a 2.89 ERA. He was solid over his next three seasons, allowing 0.6 home runs per nine innings, striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings, and holding a 3.57 ERA. However, Gonzalez had his worst year in Washington in 2016 as he had a 4.57 ERA.
But Gonzalez rebounded in 2017 and reverted to his 2012 self. Despite losing velocity on his fastball, Gonzalez finished sixth in Cy Young voting with a 2.96 ERA. The Nationals traded Gonzalez in 2018, just like Murphy. Although he could be frustrating at times for Nationals fans, Gonzalez’s looping curveball and nasty changeup were staples of the Nationals rotation for years.
1. Max Scherzer
Undoubtedly the best free agent signing in Nationals history and one of the best in Major League history, Max Scherzer has been a $210 million steal for the Washington Nationals. Since signing with the Nationals in 2015, Scherzer has won the Cy Young twice, finished in the top three four times, and thrown two no-hitters. He has cemented his Hall of Fame status in Washington. From 2015 to 2019, Scherzer posted a 2.75 ERA and struck out a whopping 11.7 batters per nine innings. In addition to his performance, he has also been a workhorse in his Nationals career, pitching at least 200 innings four times and at least 220 innings three times.
Throughout his career, Scherzer has been must-see television for Nationals fans. In his legendary 2015 season, Scherzer threw two no-hitters. He followed that up in 2016 by tying the Major League record for strikeouts in a game with 20, doing so against his former team. To further this, he struck out 300 batters in 2018, arguably his best season as a National. Max Scherzer was one of the most dominant pitchers of the 2010s and the best offseason acquisition in Nationals history.
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Players Mentioned: Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Wil Crowe, Eddy Yean, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Steven Souza Jr, Jayson Werth, Mark Teixeira, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer