Washington Nationals

Could the Nationals be free agency’s biggest sleeping giant?

Everyone is talking about how the Phillies and Yankees will control free agency, but the Nationals have a big role to play as well.

The Nationals head into the offseason with more at stake than just about any other club in baseball. The question of whether or not Washington can retain Bryce Harper dominates the headlines in the nation’s capital. That’s not the only reason why fans should be keeping a close eye on the Nationals this winter though.

They may actually be the team that holds the most power as free agency really gets heated up. Their role in the Harper saga is obvious. The Nationals have a very sincere interest in locking their star outfielder up for the long haul. He reportedly rejected a 10-year, $300 million offer from Washington during the season, but his market hasn’t been as hot as he would’ve liked this offseason. As such, recent reports claim there is “mutual interest” between the two parties.

That certainly doesn’t mean the door is closed on Harper heading elsewhere, but it does make it clear the Nationals are a factor. Where Harper does ultimately end up is one of the biggest dominoes in free agency. To some degree, the outfield market will be held hostage until he makes his decision. That means the Nationals are very much involved in controlling that segment of the market.

The organization also is investigating the possibility of adding a big name pitcher. The Phillies got a ton of press for bringing Patrick Corbin in for a visit, but the talented lefty also spent time in D.C. this week. For whatever reason, that’s not getting much press.

Corbin happens to be the most coveted free agent pitcher on the market. The Nationals may not be the favorite to land him, but if they step in and offer him a six or seven-year contract it could influence what the Yankees, Phillies and other teams in the market for a high quality starter might do.

That could mean matching what the Nationals offer Corbin, but it could also heat up the market for guys like Nathan Eovaldi and J.A. Happ. They are generally viewed to be the next guy’s in line after Corbin makes his decision.

The Nationals’ interest in Corbin could also push some teams into the trade market for an ace. The Indians are asking for a fortune for Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco, but don’t be surprised if they back off their demands some at the winter meetings. The same could be said for the Mets and Noah Syndergaard.

Next: Braves need to double down and deal for an ace

The reality is that a lot of teams still have the ability to shift other team’s priorities if they make a big move at this point in the free agency cycle. Don’t be surprised if the Nationals end up making a significant transaction or two that send other teams scrambling.

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