While Nationals Park is ready for the 5,000 fans who are allowed to attend on Opening Day, the Washington Nationals’ roster is not ready. It still feels like a work in progress. What general manager Mike Rizzo envisioned back in the offseason has changed. Today, the Nationals pared the roster down to 26 healthy players in what we could see on Opening Day. One player, who will not be on that roster, is the struggling Carter Kieboom.
The Nats made a sizable gamble to bet on Kieboom as their starting third baseman, and he subsequently fell well below the “Mendoza” line in these 2021 Spring Training games. Rizzo tipped his hand early on and doubled down on Kieboom. This team could have made a hot corner or second base upgrade in the offseason, but only made some mediocre moves on minor league deals for Jordy Mercer and Hernan Perez. The third base spot was there for Kieboom’s taking. Today he was optioned to Triple-A.
With support from Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez that seemed unwavering until early this week when they moved Starlin Castro to the third base for a Spring Training game, the writing was on the wall that the young infielder was not going to make the team. Also, Rizzo sent infielder Luis Garcia to Triple-A so he will not factor into the Opening Day roster. Current choices to fill third and second base will be from Mercer, Perez, Castro and Josh Harrison unless a new acquisition emerges. Expect Castro on third base (if healthy) and Harrison taking many starts at second base.
So Kieboom and Garcia are in AAA, and Castro has a hammy thing? That Nats 2B/3B situation is going to be something else. I don’t think I can allow myself to project a team with Soto in last (and yes, Turner, Max, Stras, I get it) but I don’t know how you win with an IF like that.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) March 27, 2021
Throughout the offseason, and into most of Spring Training, Rizzo and Martinez defended Kieboom against calls to acquire a proven third baseman or to acquire a second baseman whereby they would shift Castro to third base. The following quotes were just a few of the words in support of Kieboom:
“If we listened to the Twitter world, we would have gotten rid of Robin Ventura when he was 0-for-48 or something like that in his early days in the big leagues,” Rizzo said at the start of Spring Training in his staunch support for Kieboom.
“Again, 44 big league games, sporadically over two seasons, we’re not going to make any drastic evaluations there. We have seen the kid play since his junior year of high school. Everybody who laid eyes on him had him as a big-time prospect and a guy who’s going to help us a lot.”
“We have confidence in Kieboom that he’s going to be a good player. We have too many guys with too many eyes on him that think he’s going to be a really good big league player. I’m not going to judge any player off  plate appearances in his Major League career. We see him as a guy with great upside for us who’s going to be a really good player for us.”
“Here’s a kid who had so much success in the minor leagues, and we really feel like he can bring that success up here,” Martinez said early in Spring Training. “I just want Carter to go out there and have fun, relax and just play the game like he’s played it in the minor leagues. I’ve talked to Riz about this, and we’ve had unbelievable conversations about him. I, 100 percent, believe in Carter, and I think he can help us.”
Those words echo empty today. Maybe they will ring true at some point in the future. Kieboom is only 23 years old. You don’t give up on him, but on the Major League roster, he is now gone. You have to flip to a Plan B now, and move forward while you pick up the pieces to make the most of a complicated situation that almost seems like it was avoidable. This is not hindsight speaking — this was having a better Plan B in place back in the offseason. Get ready for some wild conspiracy theories to emerge. They usually do in the “blame” game.
So what does that roster look like after today’s cuts? Here is the latest guess considering the team could still make an acquisition, but as of now with all of today’s transactions, 29 players remain active on the big league roster:
Starting Pitchers (5):
- Wander Suero
- Austin Voth
- Luis Avilan L
- Erick Fedde
- Kyle Finnegan
- Brad Hand L
- Daniel Hudson
- Tanner Rainey
- 1B Josh Bell S
- IF Starlin Castro
- IF Josh Harrison
- IF Jordy Mercer
- IF Hernan Perez
- SS Trea Turner
- 1B Ryan Zimmerman
The aforementioned players add up to 26, and here are the three other players on the big league roster of which two of them will be moved to the IL: Will Harris and Rogelio Armenteros, and the unknown: Seth Romero who remains on the big league roster but last appeared in a backfield game on March 6th.
Remember, Rizzo can change everything with a last minute deal. In the last two days, both Todd Frazier and Jake Lamb became available. Would either be an upgrade over Mercer? You just wonder if there is a surprise or two yet remaining.
Of note, the Nats must make room for Luis Avilan as they are one spot short on the 40-man roster. That could be accomplished by a 60-Day IL stint or another DFA. The team cut Jake Noll this afternoon to clear a 40-man spot.