New free agents for Nats to consider

New free agents for Nats to consider
December 13, 2011, 2:18 pm
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As you already know by now, the Nationals tendered contracts to six of their seven arbitration-eligible players before Monday night's deadline, cutting ties only with reliever Doug Slaten.

You may not, however, have stayed up late enough to read a complete list of all the players non-tendered before midnight. Those players are now suddenly free agents and there for any other club to gobble up, including the Nationals.

Before we take a look at a few intriguing names who might pique Mike Rizzo's interest, we should note that the Rays did tender B.J. Upton a contract last night. So forget about the center fielder becoming available and signing with the Nationals this winter. (Upton, of course, still is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2012 season, so the Nats could try to sign him then. Or they could continue to try to work out a trade for him, though those talks have gone nowhere for two years now.)

Anyways, here are four players non-tendered by their clubs last night who could draw some interest from the Nationals...

The 30-year-old lefty didn't have a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts and posting a solid 1.307 WHIP for the Diamondbacks. But Saunders was a classic non-tender candidate, not because of his performance but because of his projected salary.

After making 5.5 million through arbitration, Saunders would have been in line to receive a salary bump up to 7 million or even 8 million. The D'backs didn't think he was worth that much money, so they cut him loose.

Would the Nationals be interested? Well, Saunders' numbers may not quite mimic Mark Buehrle's, but he has averaged 32 starts and 199.8 innings pitched each of the last four seasons, and he has postseason experience both with the Diamondbacks and Angels. He's also a local boy, having been born in Falls Church, gone to high school at West Springfield and pitched in college at Virginia Tech.

There could be some significant competition for Saunders, who could command a multi-year contract. But he'd certainly come cheaper than Buehrle while putting up nearly comparable numbers.

When's the last time the starting second baseman for the defending World Series champions got unceremoniously dumped the way Theriot was by the Cardinals last night? OK, so he hit .077 in that World Series, but the 32-year-old remains a solid middle infielder with a career .282 average and .344 on-base percentage.

Theriot would certainly have some value to the Nationals, who would love to add a veteran middle infielder who could mentor Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and give both guys occasional days off. But you've got to believe some club out there is going to offer Theriot a chance to play every day. That wouldn't be the case here, so it's probably a pipe dream.

This guy might make more sense for the Nationals. The 31-year-old Keppinger has started 511 big-league games, but he's versatile enough to play anywhere in the infield and he could slot in nicely here as a super-utility guy who can give Desmond, Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman the occasional breather.

Keppinger is a solid offensive player, too, boasting a career .281 average and .332 on-base percentage, though his numbers were down a bit this season (.277 and .300) in Houston and San Francisco.

After non-tendering Slaten last night, the Nationals could be in the market for a new lefty specialist in the bullpen. Mijares, who was cut loose by the Twins, would be worth a look.

The 27-year-old had a down year in Minnesota, posting a 4.59 ERA in 58 games and dealing with some nagging (though not serious) injuries. Mijares, though, owned a 2.49 ERA and 1.137 WHIP over his previous three seasons, and he holds left-handed batters to a .212 average and .276 on-base percentage.