Notable Upcoming Free Agents on Nationals, Orioles for 2016


May 18, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span (2) is congratulated by Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) after scoring a run against the New York Mets during the fifth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland’s two baseball teams, the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, enter the 2015 season with some very high expectations and notable upcoming free agents in the last year of their contracts. Quite possibly, the 2015 season is the last opportunity for these key members of the rosters to win a World Series with their current squad.

From the Nationals, two everyday players might be headed elsewhere following the 2015 season. Shortstop Ian Desmond and center fielder Denard Span will both be free agents unless a deal can get done with the Nationals re-signing them.

Desmond had a bit of a down year in 2014. His batting average dropped down to .255 after two consecutive seasons at .280 or better. He also struck out 183 times which was nearly 40 more than his previous career high set in 2013. Only Desmond’s run production remained steady as he contributed 24 home runs and a new career high 91 RBI for the NL East champion Nats.

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Meanwhile, Span led the NL with 184 hits. He had his best season since 2009 while setting new career highs in hits, doubles, and stolen bases. Span first put on a Nationals uniform after he was traded in 2012 to Washington by the Minnesota Twins. In exchange for Span, the Twins received pitcher Alex Meyer, who has yet to pitch in the big leagues.

The Nationals may have an even bigger problem as their top-rated starting pitching staff is likely to last just one more season. Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann are not under contract with the Nationals after this year.

During their time with the Nationals, Fister has had one season where he won 16 games in 25 starts. Zimmermann is far more familiar with navigating Dupont Circle after six seasons in D.C.. In the 145 starts dating back to 2009, Zimmermann is 57-40 with a 3.24 ERA. He also has two consecutive seasons of finishing inside the top 10 for Cy Young voting.

Down the road in Baltimore, the Orioles are in a similar predicament. They could lose starting catcher Matt Wieters, first baseman/designated hitter Chris Davis, and the 2014 surprise, Steve Pearce.

Although Wieters is only hitting .257 in his career, his Gold Glove catching ability has been very beneficial and at times underrated. Before going down with an injury in 2014, Wieters also looked like he was headed toward the best year of his career. In only 26 games, Wieters was hitting .308 with 5 home runs and 18 RBIs.

In Davis’ case, the 2015 season will have a lot to do with whether or not the Orioles want him back. His performance in 2014 compared to 2013 was night and day. He may never reach the 53 home runs and 138 RBIs from 2013 again, however the biggest problem for him last year was simply making contact. Davis lost 90 points on his batting average and failed to surpass the Mendoza Line, ending a miserable suspension-shortened season with a .196 batting average.

As for Pearce, he was one of the guys who stepped in after all of the injuries and shortcomings the Orioles experienced in 2014. For the first time in Pearce’s career he played in over 100 games. He took advantage by hitting .293 with 21 home runs and 49 RBI. He has only one full season of real productivity and was more of a Triple-A type journeyman in the past, so if the Orioles want him back in 2016, it shouldn’t cost them very much.

The Orioles also have a worry on their pitching staff as Wei-Yin Chen is free agent eligible as well. Chen won a career high 16 games in 2014 with a new low earned run average of 3.54 in his MLB tenure. Certainly affordable, this is still another contract the Orioles will have to tend to if they want him returning for another year.

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