With the Josh Bell acquisition, the #Nats starters are coming into focus!

Graphic by Izzy Rendell

Hocus pocus, things are coming into focus. Acquiring Josh Bell via the Christmas Eve 2020 trade with the Pirates was a much needed first step for a team that had the best record in the NL East for the previous 10 years. Yes, tell those Braves fans who are deniers of the facts that they are exhibiting willful ignorance if they try to cherry-pick the results. The Nats are 836-681 in the last ten years while the Braves were only at 787-730. Recall that the Braves had some dreadful losing seasons from 2014-2017. The news was even worse for the Mets and Phillies as their teams had losing records in that time span at 740-778 and 718-800, respectively. Again, these are facts. 

The Nationals have a chance to get back to winning in 2021 which to be fair is something Washingtonians got used to as the norm in every year after 2011 and through the World Series win in 2019. Also to be fair to the Mets, they have a good chance to get back to winning in 2021. If the Braves stay healthy, they still look like the best team in the NL East. With so many good teams and 19 head-to-head games against each of the NL East teams, it usually comes down to survival of the fittest. Who can stay healthy and play to their abilities, and who can play better than the analysts projected on paper?

There is also a lot of roster work ahead for each team. The Nats only have 34 players on their 40-man roster. There will be more moves from general manager Mike Rizzo. Who those player are — will be part of the unknown. That adds to the intrigue. Was Josh Bell the impactful middle of the order bat who Riz referred to often prior to the trade.

“Josh was the trade option we were looking at most intently. … We think this is a big upgrade for us. Like I said, [Josh Bell] is a middle of the lineup presence that we’ve been looking for,” Rizzo said today. “We never stop trying to improve the club. We certainly won’t this offseason. But this fulfills a big part of our wish list — in getting this middle of the lineup bat.”

Asked another question on Bell,  Rizzo changed his wording to a similar response. Will Bell be the biggest bat acquired in this offseason?

“Josh is a big acquisition for us. He’s the middle of the lineup bat that we were looking for,” Rizzo said. “Again, we’re never done improving the club, and if we see an opportunity to improve the club offensively, we’ll certainly be aggressive in trying to get that thing done. We still have options in the trade avenues and in the free agent avenues. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive and try to put together a championship caliber club.”

The next impactful player added to the Nationals roster could be a free agent corner outfielder, a third baseman, or a second baseman — or maybe even a starting pitcher, but it could also just be bench depth. The WAR projections scream for another big acquisition.

FanGraphs WAR 12/26/2020

The Nationals are currently projected to a +31.1 WAR for 2021, and it is clear that they do not like Andrew Stevenson and Josh Harrison who are both -0.3 WAR on the chart. They love Carter Kieboom once again at +1.1 WAR, and they expect a bounceback season for Victor Robles.

“[Stevenson] started playing well, earning everyday reps, and then he started taking off from there, and I think you saw a very confident player that has the tools to play in the big leagues, and he showed them off at the end of last year,” Rizzo said last week. “… We think that he’s got an opportunity to have a spot on this team and be an impactful guy on this team.”

There are some who think Stevenson is a good player who will shine if given the chance to start for this team. Others think his two week hot bat in September was just a lucky streak commonly referred to as “Fool’s Gold” when you rely on that. It is really Rizzo’s job along with manager Dave Martinez to decide who they project as their starters.

Everyone has an opinion, and the only ones as we said that count are Rizzo’s and Martinez’s pen to paper. If the season started today, the positions (not the line-up) would fill-in like this:

C — Yan Gomes
1B — Josh Bell
2B — Starlin Castro
3B — Carter Kieboom
SS — Trea Turner
LF — Andrew Stevenson
CF — Victor Robles
RF — Juan Soto

Let’s look at filling in each position and back-up catcher by best available players as ranked by FanGraphs WAR (combined) for the 2019 and 2020 seasons:


J.T. Realmuto (30 years old, 7.4 WAR)
Tyler Flowers (35, 2.5)
Jason Castro (34, 1.9)
Curt Casali (32, 1.8)
Yadier Molina (38, 1.7)
Wilson Ramos (33, 1.6)
Alex Avila (34, 1.5)

A note on the catchers and projections going forward is that Realmuto and Molina are both considered starters going forward while the others are all backups and in Ramos’ case he also gets at-bats as a pinch-hitter. As we reported, both Flowers and Castro were contacted by the Nats in this off-season. Based on age and cost, Casali might be the hidden gem here.

Second basemen:

DJ LeMahieu (32 years old, 7.8 WAR)
Kolten Wong (30, 5.0)
Jonathan Villar (30, 3.7)
Cesar Hernandez (31, 3.6)
Tommy La Stella (32, 3.2)
Jonathan Schoop (29, 2.7)
Hanser Alberto (28, 2.5)

Of note, the Nats could look at a second baseman and shift Starlin Castro to third base or trade him.

Third basemen:

Justin Turner (36 years old, 4.7 WAR)
Eric Sogard (35, 2.3)

Isn’t this where we add the 29 year old Eugenio Suarez who has a combined 2019-2020 WAR of +5.6? He is a trade candidate and not a free agent which is why he is not on the list. Maybe a Justin Turner acquisition is the right fit for this team. Remember, he is coming off of a 4 year, $64 million deal. MLBTR predicts just a 2 year deal at $12 million per season.

Corner outfielders:

Michael Brantley (34 years old, 5.5 WAR)
Marcell Ozuna (30, 5.0)
Brett Gardner (37, 4.2)
Joc Pederson (29, 3.0)
Kyle Schwarber (28, 3.0)
Jurickson Profar (28, 2.7)
Robbie Grossman (31, 2.1)
Eddie Rosario (29, 2.1)
Adam Duvall (32, 1.3)
Yasiel Puig (30, 1.2) DNP in 2020

Maybe the best way to analyze the free agents would be to go to FanGraphs:

Remember, Eugenio Suarez is a trade candidate and not a free agent and his WAR is projected at +2.6 for 2021. He would fit just above Joc Pederson in the WAR graphic.

Who are you adding and what does your lineup look like for the Washington Nationals in the 2021 season?

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