With the 40-man roster sitting at 29 current players, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo can now embark on his off-season journey of building a better mousetrap. Putting together talent is subjective based on the eye of a scout who excels at piecing intricate puzzles together. You cannot force the wrong piece in place or the puzzle does not work. Rizzo has learned through excruciating trial and error that players with immense upside like Elijah Dukes or even Jonathan Papelbon can not seamlessly fit into his clubhouse as that chemistry must work. Sometimes it is the intangibles of a bench player like Gerardo Parra who becomes the x-factor needed to get you to the promised land.
There is often addition by subtraction on rosters, and the best team on paper usually does not win the World Series. Rizzo’s 2016 roster, deemed the best he assembled on paper, did not get past the NLDS. The 2015 Nats acquired Max Scherzer and that catalyzed the infamous Bryce Harper quote of, “Where’s my ring” and that team did not even make it to the postseason.
We knew the Nats’ 2020 roster was not nearly as good as the 2019 roster, but nobody could have predicted a 4th place finish in the NL East. What the season exposed was the weak links in the chain. Some players who have been with the Washington Nationals for years are now gone like Michael A. Taylor who was drafted in 2009. Eric Thames, who was brought in on a one-year deal with an option, had a miserable year and was cut. Another player who was cut yesterday was Adam Eaton who the team acquired in a blockbuster trade in 2016. Anibal Sanchez was brilliant in the World Series season of 2019, but was the worst in the starting rotation in 2020 with a 6.62 ERA, and he is gone.
“After we do our summary of 2020, we’ll find out what worked, what didn’t work, and what we have to improve on,” Rizzo said at the end of the season. “By Spring Training, we’re hoping to have a roster in place that’s going to compete for the National League East championship and the World Series championship.”
In that Rizzo quote, we can assume they have done their summary of 2020 and that put into action the changes in the coaching staff, front office, and the player personnel moves. There are 29 players currently on the roster, and the Nats will be adding at least eleven players to fill up their 40-man roster. The constraints start with the budget then to Rizzo’s ultimate vision. Of course manager Dave Martinez and his staff will have input along with “The Pentagon” and Rizzo’s front office in the team’s group-think decisions on player personnel. Even though the Nats cut positions in their front office as part of the purge we have seen across baseball, it will be this more streamlined group that will have to carry on.
“It was one of the few times — in the war room where the analytical information matched up with the scouting eye, and it was a decision in the room that was very easy for us to make, to determine that this was the player, at this time, with that skill-set, with the control, where at that price was the right guy for us to do it,” Rizzo said in 2016 when they traded for Eaton.
There is certainly a group collaboration and buy-in when they target players for an acquisition. Ultimately, it is Rizzo who casts the deciding vote if the player fits in the budget.
In the coming weeks and months, the Nationals will be tied in the social media to many players like they were last year to a Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado trade of which neither happened. They were listed as the frontrunner on Josh Donaldson which we at TalkNats vehemently disputed as inaccurate. That is part of the issue. Inaccurate reports, fake news, and pure B.S. rule the roost. Multiple reports recently said that Kevin Long was gone and would not return. We wrote that there was still a chance albeit a long-shot that Long would return because the door was not closed, and we were right. He was back. But with the rumors, if enough people say it, then people believe it. That is what happened with Donaldson. While the Nats were “in” on him, it was never as robust as some in the media made it out to be with a four to five year offer in excess of $92 million that was pure fiction.
So when you hear, and you will hear, that the Nationals are in on Trevor Bauer, Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer, just remember, in the end, only one team will sign the player, and part of the strategy is to create a market for them to get teams to bid against each other. Several teams will be in on these players, and while we can bet the Nats will be “in” on all four of them, how far in is the unknown right now.
Keith Law at The Athletic has written up his Top-40 free agents, and he has Eaton at #31 in this weak free agent market with a fair write-up on the type of player Eaton is now, and admittedly writes, “someone’s regular in left field or a great fourth outfielder”. To think that profile ranks at #31 overall tells you how weak of a market it is this year.
Here is your Nats current roster as of this morning:
|Pitchers||B/T||HT||WT||Age Next Year|
|1||Dakota Bacus||R/R||6′ 2″||220||30|
|2||Ben Braymer||L/L||6′ 2″||220||27|
|3||Patrick Corbin||L/L||6′ 3″||210||32|
|4||Wil Crowe||R/R||6′ 2″||228||27|
|5||Erick Fedde||R/R||6′ 4″||200||28|
|6||Kyle Finnegan||R/R||6′ 2″||200||30|
|7||Ryne Harper||R/R||6′ 3″||215||32|
|8||Will Harris||R/R||6′ 4″||240||37|
|9||Daniel Hudson||R/R||6′ 3″||215||34|
|10||Kyle McGowin||R/R||6′ 3″||195||30|
|11||Tanner Rainey||R/R||6′ 2″||235||29|
|12||Seth Romero||L/L||6′ 3″||240||25|
|13||Joe Ross||R/R||6′ 4″||220||28|
|14||Max Scherzer||R/R||6′ 3″||215||37|
|15||Stephen Strasburg||R/R||6′ 5″||235||33|
|16||Wander Suero||R/R||6′ 4″||211||30|
|17||Austin Voth||R/R||6′ 2″||210||29|
|Catchers||B/T||HT||WT||Age Next Year|
|18||Tres Barrera||R/R||6′ 0″||215||27|
|19||Yan Gomes||R/R||6′ 2″||215||34|
|Infielders||B/T||HT||WT||Age Next Year|
|20||Starlin Castro||R/R||6′ 2″||220||31|
|21||Luis García||L/R||6′ 2″||211||21|
|22||Josh Harrison||R/R||5′ 8″||190||34|
|23||Carter Kieboom||R/R||6′ 2″||210||24|
|24||Jake Noll||R/R||6′ 2″||215||27|
|25||Trea Turner||R/R||6′ 2″||185||28|
|Outfielders||B/T||HT||WT||Age Next Year|
|26||Yadiel Hernandez||L/R||5′ 9″||185||34|
|27||Victor Robles||R/R||6′ 0″||205||24|
|28||Juan Soto||L/L||6′ 1″||220||23|
|29||Andrew Stevenson||L/L||6′ 0″||192||27|
Based on all of the moves the Nationals just made to the roster, the current AAV combined salaries for 2021 is estimated at $164 million with projected arbitration-eligible salaries, bonuses, incentives, benefits, and 40-man costs.
In normal times, you could see the Nats spending to get two of the best free agents and pushing to the $210 million AAV cap for 2021 — but these are not normal times given the economic constraints on all sports teams due to the COVID crisis. It is not business as usual.
Truth be told, and you may not want to believe this, but this could be a transition year to where the Nats make only minor moves in the offseason and reassess the situation at the trade deadline. The other options go more to creativity to match any new acquisitions to minimal cash expenditures for 2021 whereby salary deferrals are made for 2021 to keep the cash side of the balance sheet more reasonable. We saw cuts in the front office today, and this is all part of the cash shortage on the business side of the reality.
This is where that $100 million sitting in escrow on the MASN lawsuit would be much-needed to balance the budget and that looks like it will not happen any time soon. Also, this is not a great time to be trying sell stadium naming rights which would have been a nice windfall for the team. Other than that, they have to hope that the D.C. government will allow some fans to return to the stadium in 2021 to add revenue.
While there is not any good news to report, there also is not any bad news unless you lost your job. Everything is now in “wait and see” mode.