As July 30 was approaching and a sell-off by the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline looked to be a go, we felt that general manager Mike Rizzo needed to poach one of the top catching prospects from an NL West team. On that list was Keibert Ruiz of the Dodgers, Joey Bart of the Giants, and Luis Campusano of the Padres. The player being dangled was clearly Max Scherzer who admitted recently that he thought he was going to be dealt to the Padres. The deal expanded to a blockbuster of Scherzer and Trea Turner and the Nats indeed got Ruiz from the Dodgers plus their top pitching prospect in Josiah Gray and a toolsy outfielder in Donovan Casey.
By trading for Ruiz, the Nats just solved their catching position for at least the next six years plus they traded for Riley Adams in a deal with the Blue Jays. Ruiz and Adams could solidify the catcher’s position for at least the next half-dozen years. There has been a deep void in the Nats’ system at catcher since Wilson Ramos departed for free agency after the 2016 season.
In another deadline trade, Rizzo somehow unloaded the struggling Jon Lester for an under-performing Lane Thomas who first showed glimpses in a 2019 call-up for the Cardinals but then had poor results in separate call-ups in 2020 and 2021 for the Red Birds. Thomas took over centerfield when the ineffective Victor Robles was demoted to Triple-A and the new acquisition took advantage by slashing .270/ .364/ .489/ .853 in his 45-games with the Nats. While Thomas had his struggles against right-handed pitching at a .215 batting average, he made up for it with a .417 BA against lefties. He certainly has earned the chance going into Spring Training as the team’s starting centerfielder.
What the team does with outfielders Robles and the lefty Andrew Stevenson will be figured out before Opening Day. Clearly a lefty centerfielder could take a few games to start against tough right-handed pitching, but Stevenson struggled mightily as a starter, but proved to be the best pinch-hitter in Nats history. He batted .319 as a pinch-hitter in 49 plate appearances, but only .184 as a starter. That should be the opposite when dealing with logic, especially in platoon starts.
If you pencil in Ruiz, Adams, and Thomas as three of the 13 position players on the roster, that leaves 10 other positions to fill. Obviously the best hitter in baseball, Juan Soto, is one of your corner outfielders leaving an opening for Yadiel Hernandez at either the designated hitter spot or leftfield. That fills five spots. Preferably you would want a right-handed starting outfielder to add to the roster. One name out there is Josh Harrison who would not cost much, and he could share time with Hernandez. More expensive names out there are Kyle Schwarber and Andrew McCutcheon.
The issue with spending big on position players is that the team should be spending the bulk of Lerner’s money on pitching. Besides, the offense post-trade deadline scored 4.63 runs per game which was greater than the 4.38 runs per games the team scored when they had Turner, Harrison, Starlin Castro and Yan Gomes. This bit of good news for an offense that didn’t have the highs and extreme lows of the previous offense bodes well for manager Dave Martinez if the team can just incremental upgrades for a left-handed bench centerfielder, a new leftfielder, and a new third baseman.
On the infield, the team extended the contract of Alcides Escobar, and he can man the shortstop spot unless Rizzo goes bold for a big upgrade at the key position which is doubtful. Rizzo has already said that the 21-year-old Luis Garcia will be his starting second baseman, and Josh Bell should return for first base. Those names makes it eight players to pencil in with five open spots. If the team got Harrison and added a lefty utility man like Brad Miller, and another righty utility player like Matt Duffy, those three could fill leftfield as well as third base.
- Lane Thomas CF
- Alcides Escobar SS
- Juan Soto RF
- Josh Bell 1B
- Keibert Ruiz C
- Yadiel Hernandez/TBD DH
- TBD 3B
- TBD LF
- Luis Garcia 2B
The team has also left the door wide open for Ryan Zimmerman to return to the role he held in 2021, and if there is in fact a full-time spot in the National League for a DH, Zim could certainly see more playing time in 2022.
If money was free-flowing the team could go in big for Starling Marte, the Seager brothers (Corey Seager and Kyle Seager) or re-acquire Kyle Schwarber, and a big-name shortstop, but we really expect Rizzo to go after players like Harrison, Miller, and Duffy to fill-in the lineup and create some matchup possibilities. If Zim does not return, we could see Adams take some reps at first base and open up a roster spot for Tres Barrera as a third catcher.
Certainly we will see what the team does with Robles, Stevenson, as well as Carter Kieboom who all are under team control. It is also possible they give players like Casey and Jake Noll some extended looks this year. Those look like depth moves on a positional roster that is almost set for 2022.