Sports Illustrated's John Heyman listed his top 25 best-bargain players left in free agency noting that in the past several years some of the best contracts came from cheap one year deals. While the Nationals have spent a ton of money already this winter, they still have huge holes in their roster they need to fill, and these players could do just the trick.
Here are the players from Heyman's list that I think might be a good fit with the Nationals.
1. Brad Penny, SP - Penny was off to a great start in 2010 before he suffered an injury in May to his upper back near his right shoulder. The Cardinals first believed this was just a slight injury and that Penny would miss minimal time, but it lingered and had him out the entirety of the season...Shawn Hill style. Still, Penny threw the hardest of his career last season averaging 94.1 MPH on his fastball while posting a 3.23 ERA in 55.2 innings pitched. His injury and his age (33 in May) should make him a prime option for a cheap, one-year deal which the Nationals could capitalize on.
2. David Eckstein, IF - Eckstein quietly put together his best season since 2005, as the former World Series MVP earned 2.0 WAR. Eckstein's resurgence can largely be attributed to his switch from shortstop to second base, the position he probably should have been playing his whole career. With less ground to cover, Eckstein posted a 6.2 UZR, tremendously helping his value. While the Nationals have three set starters in the positions Eckstein could potentially play, his presence would be extremely valuable considering their relative youth and immaturity. Think Adam Kennedy without the locker room issues.
3. Jon Rauch, RP - Who says you can't go home again? Rauch spent three-and-a-half seasons in Washington before they shipped him to Arizona in 2008. While his uniform has changed several times since then, the one thing that hasn't changed is Rauch's reliability and durability in the bullpen. While he will likely try to find a team that will compete, he could be a large edition to a Nationals bullpen that is one arm away from actually being one of the better ones in the NL East. Signing him would be a huge step that would bridge the gap between the starters and the Storen/Clippard connection.
4. Ben Sheets, SP - Before you get upset, remember, we're looking at the bargain basement here. Sheets, a former all-star and serious Cy Young candidate signed a $10 million deal last year with Oakland to prove he could 1. still pitch and 2. stay healthy. Unfortunately, his elbow injury in lated July cut short what was shaping up to be a relatively strong come back. The injury was the same one that forced him to sit out all of 2009, and is likely to turn off just about every possible suitor, making his asking price about zero. Still, Sheets threw 91.2 MPH last year while healthy and was in the midst of developing a strong slider to compliment his tremendous curveball. If it's a minimum contract, or close to it, why not go for Sheets?
5. Russell Branyan, 1B - Branyan hit for contact pretty poorly last season batting just .237/.323/.487 in 109 games between Cleveland and Seattle last year. But despite his high strikeout rate Branyan has continued to do two very important things very well while staying under the radar, play defense and hit for elite power. In 2009 and 2010 he posted a 1.6 and 2.8 UZR at first base, which would be a significant step up from Adam Dunn for the Nationals. He has also combined to hit 56 home runs over the past two seasons in which he played just 215 games, 173 of which were in Seattle, one of the worst home run hitters parks in baseball. Imagine what this left-handed power bat could do in the friendly confines of Nationals park.