As the offseason for the Washington Nationals officially ends at midnight tomorrow, the pre-season begins as pitchers and catchers officially report to the Spring Training facility at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sure, additional roster moves will be made, and there could be some other personnel moves that could impact the rosters. Fangraphs has released their first standings projections for 2020 and the Nats are fractionally ahead of the Mets even though they are slightly behind the Mets in team WAR (+44.0 to +43.4). The computative reasoning is because Fangraphs uses averaged “run differential” to determine the standings. Also, the final grade from former general manager Jim Bowden writing in The Athletic was an A- for the Nats offseason grade as Bowden analyzed each team’s roster moves. Not too shabby when you consider the Nats are still at a +43.4 in Fangraphs with a .540 winning percentage as that is 87 ½ wins with 4.93 runs scored per game and 4.53 runs against. Are those wins enough to get the Nationals back to the postseason is the million dollar question.
Don’t stress on it too much as general manager Mike Rizzo is very good on making in-season moves up to the trade deadline. Keep in mind, the 87 ½ wins are based on “today” and not what happens along the way as Fangraphs tweaks their numbers daily so those 87 ½ wins is merely a starting point. Here is what Fangraphs looks like right now as they are building the model, and you get a first look!
Here is the Bowden grading in The Athletic. Some might say that is a generous grade given that the Nats did not retain Anthony Rendon or bag Josh Donaldson. But the Nats did sign Stephen Strasburg, Will Harris, Starlin Castro and other key parts from the 2019 World Series championship team.
Free Agents: RHP Stephen Strasburg, 7 years/$245 million; RHP Will Harris, 3 years/$24 million; INF Starlin Castro, 2 years/$12 million; C Yan Gomes, 2 years/$10 million; INF Howie Kendrick, 1 year/$6.25 million; INF Asdrubal Cabrera, 1 year/$2.5 million; RHP Daniel Hudson, 2 years/$11 million; INF/OF Eric Thames, 1 year/$4 million; INF Ryan Zimmerman, 1 year/$2 million; RHP Kyle Finnegan, 1 year/$563,500
The Nationals were able to re-sign their World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, but it took a record-breaking 7-year, $245-million deal to get it done. They weren’t as fortunate to bring back their best position player, third baseman Anthony Rendon, who departed in free agency to the Angels. However, they improved their bullpen with the free-agent signing of Will Harris, who was arguably the Astros’ best reliever last year.
They did concentrate on re-signing several of their veteran role players, bringing back the likes of postseason hero Howie Kendrick, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and utility infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera. They also inked veteran first baseman Eric Thames to give them a left-handed platoon with Zimmerman and Kendrick. Their most underrated move was signing infielder Starlin Castro, who is expected to compete with rookie Carter Kieboom at second and third base. Castro, 29, belted 22 home runs last year with 86 runs batted in despite a dismal OBP of .300. The Nationals are expected to continue to target a trade for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, but are satisfied with their roster in the meantime as they are strongly positioned to contend for another World Series, thanks to one of the game’s best pitching staffs.
Note that Bowden still expects the Nationals to pursue Kris Bryant as a trade target. Also the wording on Strasburg “but it took a record-breaking 7-year, $245-million deal to get it done” might suggest that Bowden thinks it was an overpay. Yes, some would agree with Bowden on that but the Lerner ownership group once again put up record dollars to sign Strasburg as a free agent. Of course that record to sign a right-handed pitcher was eclipsed days later when Gerrit Cole‘s deal smashed that record for a right-handed pitcher.
We will go into the pre-season portion of the year and see how this all comes together. Could Rizzo pull off a Spring Training shocker of a trade? Who knows. There were not any surprises so far as we had mentioned dozens of possibilities and covered the potential moves. Rizzo’s month of October was busy, you know, with the postseason and winning the World Series so his offseason was the shortest ever plus he had a championship parade and visited the White House and then got married in Jamaica, and recently lost his father. So yes, it was a bittersweet offseason for the executive of the year.
“I’ve been drunk for about a month,” Rizzo jokingly said at the unveiling of the Nationals’ World Series documentary in December.
Of course the real grading of the offseason and the real season will get critiqued in hindsight about nine months from now, as always.