With respect to the Washington Nationals final roster, I’m almost surprised with how un-surprising things have turned out. General Manager Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez will formally post up their Opening Day roster shortly, and we should probably see the Alternate Site roster as well. As far as the 26-man roster goes, the sum is greater than the part; but nice parts!
A few notes:
Starlin Castro – He is a proven RBI bat and very experienced professional. He is not Anthony Rendon, and won’t be. But if the Nationals get Yunel Escobar offense from him with better than expected defense, he will be either a terrific transition to a next option in 2022, or a player who transitions into a lengthy Nationals career chapter if extended.
There is nothing Castro has done in a Nationals uniform to see him as anything but a starting player. He is still young, and we will yet see the rewards of his maturity on the younger Latino players on the Nationals roster, and the benefits of his connection to Davey Martinez. I think the Castro-Trea Turner– Josh Harrison stability in the infield will be good for Josh Bell and great in the clubhouse. Again, not near Rendon, but adding playoff value relative to Rendon-Brian Dozier? Sure, and especially if the Nationals can get strong years from Bell and Ryan Zimmerman.
Josh Harrison – What he demonstrated this spring is that he is far better than a utility player. He is simply one of those players and all-star caliber players who fell into the cracks after his production declined on a moribund Pittsburgh team. One could say that he resembles Josh Bell that way — and if Harrison weren’t so physically short, maybe he would. No one sees Bell as a sub-.230 hitter now, just someone who needed a change of scenery to resurge.
When you see Harrison, you see an excellent teammate who has presence of mind, who hits the ball hard, has a lot of energy on the field, and is a good teammate and who obviously has a lot more in the tank. He may not be Howie Kendrick, but he is better defensively, and is most certainly an outstanding pickup and re-sign for the value he represents and will represent going forward. And remember that even Howie Kendrick was not Howie Kendrick until after he got to the Nationals. And even in 2019, Howie Kendrick was not Howie Kendrick until he eventually forced his way into the lineup. Well, in spring 2021, Josh Harrison forced his way in. I am very happy with this and confident about his 2021 to come.
Ryan Zimmerman – The Nationals definitely have an idea of how to use him. Which is going to be more than we saw in the spring. Zimmerman’s hitting was, in my opinion, the biggest and happiest surprise of the spring. He is able to hit well as a DH, and he is an excellent defensive option at 1B. He is heavy thump as a pinch hitter with proven clutch late inning at-bats and could also enter games as a defensive replacement.
Kyle Schwarber – Another better than advertised player so far. With Robles covering lots of ground in CF, Schwarber’s more limited range is manageable, especially if he can just get to everything that a league average LF is supposed to. One plus is Schwarber’s good arm in LF. The power is there, the batting eye there, and the attitude is there. He is looking more like a lineup upgrade over Adam Eaton.
Victor Robles – His evolution into a leadoff hitter is the second best surprise of the spring (even if he does not hit there often going forward), if only because Dave Martinez introduced the idea at a time that we had no hopes or expectations for a more productive reallocation of Robles’ offensive skills. His defense has been strong and confident, and I still think he is operating in the spring on a lower gear. His plate selectivity was improved, and his stolen bases higher – and he is still an early career player. I’m so happy to anticipate the prospect of Victor Robles as the leadoff presence that he was in the minor leagues. Good move for the Nationals to throw him into those expectations and for Robles, to reward their confidence.
Trea Turner and Juan Soto – Both highly proven, both play through games while hurting, both dreadfully under-produced in the spring. They get their resets and we will go from there.
Alex Avila – It’s easy to see, with Max Scherzer’s dominance and with Alex Avila’s bat, how he slots in as a complement to Gomes and prudent successor to the aging Kurt Suzuki. He does strike out in maddening ways, but the bigger picture is that most of us still remember life with Jose Lobaton. We’ve come a long way, and Avila, like Harrison and others on the roster, are very affordable but veteran producers who will bring a lot of value and professionalism to a massively retooled Nationals clubhouse and chemistry. How do you successfully retool something that was a fantastic x-factor? That has clearly been the objective. I like the remodel, and I like that Gerardo Parra will eventually be a part of it, too.
Max Scherzer – The level of his dominance at times this spring was a real balm for 2021. Already thinking about how we can extend him.
Stephen Strasburg – To me, he remains a question mark. He did not prove he was 100 percent this spring, only that his arm could handle a game-ready pitch count. That’s something, but he was given a 240 million new deal for a lot more than that.
Yan Gomes – One has to wonder whether this opportunity, for him and for Avila to complement at the catcher’s spot, is a blueprint for the next couple of years as both players head into contract years as aging players. Salvador Perez is signed by the Royals, and Gomes can play for a bigger payday. Even if he doesn’t achieve what others have hoped for him, the Nationals have already won a championship with him and are only helped with his continuity.
Josh Bell – He is a feared slugger again. How the Nationals arrange their pieces to extract his lineup protection is another story. Unless Turner intends to run a lot, I’m not so sure that batting him third (as opposed to Castro, who does not normally take walks) is advantageous. But that is me.
Joe Ross – Looks ready to me, and if he is the #4 starter, that is a #4 starter of a playoff team if he can get that new curveball and changeup over for quality strikes.
Bullpen – Are we witnessing the rise of a late inning version of Wander Suero? Or just the Nationals refining their understanding of how to best use him? Hard to believe that the bullpen is the least sorted out of the areas on the team, but it appears to be true. Harris is healthier but his role not crystallized, Hand has not settled in, Tanner Rainey is erratic and still mending, Hudson is shaky, Avilan won his competition, Finnegan is still around, and Erick Fedde looks like he can contribute as a relief pitcher. The bullpen, however, does not yet inspire confidence in game situations. I was surprised Kyle McGowin did not make the team. The 2019 bullpen was a mess when the trading deadline came. So perhaps there is potential in modest beginnings.
Bench – Andrew Stevenson/Zimm/Avila/Hernan Perez/Jordy Mercer – I get that the defense is there, that the bats are either excellent or passable, that there are legs for pinch running. It’ll do, even though Jordy Mercer reminds me of a more experienced and shinier version of Adrian Sanchez in waiting for Parra when the team returns to full strength.
Outlook – The sum is greater than the parts. There are really excellent parts. In one instance, Soto, the part is potentially transcendent. And there are several others who truly can carry a team if they are at their best. The roster we see are players who are contributing more than one skill. If you’re on the 26-man, you have an important role. True, Mercer or Perez may be there as a placeholder until Parra is truly ready to play outfield at full strength, but the Nationals differentiate themselves from teams that hold Rule 5 picks because everyone appears to be bringing something important to the table.
Kudos to Rizzo and Martinez for that bunch. And for those who could not stay on the 40-man, the organization has held onto Jake Noll and Dakota Bacus for their depth, as they have passed without being claimed. Say what you want about the organization’s prospects and depth, and even whether its personnel are playoff caliber, but this is an uncommon year of Rizzo not tinkering at the end of spring training with adding a Kevin Frandsen or even a Josh Harrison (yet). Maybe that player is out there yet.
To come – I still feel like trades (even if minor) are coming. I’m happy that Rizzo has resisted dumping players as he did Austin Adams and others, only to have them quickly demonstrate that they belonged in the majors. So the team has protected its depth. Austin Voth, Erick Fedde, Yadiel Hernandez are still around, and could be helpful to other organizations in the same way that Nathan Karns, Pedro Severino and now, Michael Taylor have landed impactful jobs. Other teams have surplus at spots that can help the Nationals. Some players like Tony Watson have changed homes while the Nationals have dealt with what they have in house. As for trades for others’ minor talent, let’s see what the scouts can come up with when other teams’ pitching starts to go down with injuries. Moreover, there are other teams for which an option like Voth or Fedde might be a great fit.