Priorities will change as moves are made for the Nats!

Screenshot modified from MLB Network

Priorities change all of the time. One move can change each subsequent move. If we knew that Kevin Long was going to leave the Washington Nationals organization, we would have had a new hitting coach as a top priority, and tying up Long long-term was our Priority #6 so we can now cross that off of our list.

We now know Darnell Coles is in place now as manager Dave Martinez made that official. If we knew there was going to be an opening there we would have suggested a bold move to bring in Daniel Murphy or go back and get Joe Dillon who was a former Nats assistant hitting coach. Dillon was fired earlier this month from the Phillies. The Nats will also be looking for two new base coaches, and we don’t see them as part of the Top-10 priorities so for now, the priorities will remain unchanged. 

Not much will be happening in player moves until after the World Series, and the free agent market opens for business. Since Alcides Escobar was extended, the only other player who the team would look to extend is Ryan Zimmerman. Given that Zim has said numerous times that he won’t decide his employment situation until early December, that will not happen any time soon. We also learned through Ryan’s wife that the couple is expecting their fourth child. Since they know the gender of the baby, we can assume that Heather Zimmerman is at least five months along and the baby will be due early next year and quite possibly during Spring Training. You have to expect that this new news could also impact Zim’s decision to play in 2022.

General manager Mike Rizzo has met with ownership to do evaluations, and we do not know if a budget has been set. In prior years that has been done prior to November 1. An interesting point made by reader Wadlez is that the Nats probably won’t be ready to compete in 2022, and if they sign some strategic one-year contracts with players they could flip at the trade deadline like they did this year, they would only be paying 67 percent of the season for those players. If  Rizzo convinces ownership that he plans on doing that again in 2022, could ownership allow him to spend more on one-year contracts?

While there is never a guarantee you can unload a contract, it worked well in 2021. The team had one-year deals in place this past season with Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Brad Hand and Josh Harrison along with expiring contracts for Max Scherzer, Daniel Hudson and Yan Gomes, and they were able to turn those into essentially cost savings of one-third on each player. The team was also able to trade Trea Turner who had over a year left on his contract.

Could a short-term strategy allow Rizzo to spend more in one-year deals in 2022 and put a better product on the field to start the 2022 season? Of course there is always the possibility that a team you put on the field clicks and they don’t have a July 31 sell-off. That is also part of the risk when budgeting.

Priority #1: Get Juan Soto extended on a long-term contract. Easier said than done and unless general manager Mike Rizzo and the Lerner ownership group are willing to commit to 15 years and a half-billion dollars for Soto, this probably won’t happen. There won’t be a Ronald Acuña bargain deal. Scott Boras is the agent for Soto so no deal unless this is record breaking money which would start at Mike Trout money of $426.5 million. Odds on anything getting done is probably 10%, so enjoy the next three years. We took a look at what a Soto contract could look like.

Priority #2: We wrote about this months ago and for years that the poor development of prospects and the way the team drafts would catch up with them. And it has to now be fixed. Everyone is clamoring for an overhaul of the developmental system because that’s what some do in hindsight when foresight told you this was a problem back in 2014. The easy fix is to hire someone who has done it successfully in the chain of Andrew Friedman. This is about finding someone who has done it with positive results. Tampa and Friedman did it right, and he took that to Los Angeles and people under him have been promoted to other levels. You have to embrace it. Saying you love analytics doesn’t mean much. Put it in action along with a sustainable developmental plan for prospects.

Priority #3: Fix the bullpen. The only three players you figure are locks for the bullpen are Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan and hope Will Harris has fully recovered from his thoracic outlet surgery? Harris is bought and paid for in the final year of his contract. The team will give their many arms on the 40-man roster a shot at making the team, but expect at least three free agent arms to be signed in the off-season including a closer. While some are hoping for a complete overhaul with five new bullpen arms, it just does not make any sense. You also have to wonder if the team looks within for a lefty reliever and decides to convert Seth Romero in the short-term to a bullpen arm. The team could also evaluate Matt Cronin during Spring Training.

Priority #4: Sign a front of the rotation starting pitcher. Easier said than done as this will cost a lot of money but because there is much unknown about Stephen Strasburg who won’t even start throwing until November after his thoracic outlet surgery and the issues with Patrick Corbin, the team really needs a “sure thing” near the top of the rotation. You have to think that Marcus Stroman would be a solid fit for this team. A reunion with Scherzer is doubtful, but there are so many other names. Alex Wood is another starter who is getting some buzz as a fit for the Nats.

✅ Priority #5: Extend the contract of Alcides Escobar if the price is right. He is a great fit either as a starter or utility bench player. He would certainly bridge the gap to the youth in the minors like Armando Cruz who is still two to three years away if it happens.

I’ve seen all I need to see with Carter Kieboom to know that he is either going to be a late bloomer or a bust. His defense is horrible and he is the lowest rated defender if you extrapolate for a full season using Statcast’s OAA which is a minus-13 outs above average. Add to that the .214 batting average and his Fangraphs -0.4 WAR for the one-third of the season he has actually played and you have an easy upgrade. The team could try to re-acquire Josh Harrison or even get Matt Duffy who is a half-time player and has put up a +1.1 WAR. The issue with both is that you would want a lefty to platoon so how’s about Brad Miller. That’s why Josh Harrison makes more sense as he can play more than one position. Get Miller and Harrison. Easily this could be a +2.0 WAR swing here without breaking the bank.

Priority #6: This might not be the popular decision based on results but I would stick with pitching coach Jim Hickey for at least another year, and I would try to tie-up hitting coach  Kevin Long  long-term. ✖️

Priority #7: Make a concerted effort this winter to get pitchers working on their “stuff”. No starting pitcher should ever be promoted if they do not have a changeup.

“Obviously, you have to throw strikes,” pitching coach Jim Hickey said when he was hired. “Obviously, you have to change speeds. … I’m a huge believer in the changeup. I don’t force anyone to throw changeups. A lot of guys don’t like the changeup because it’s not a sexy pitch. It’s not a huge swing-and-miss pitch for a lot of guys. But there’s a lot of outs in there, and there’s a lot of efficiency in there, and at the end of the year, there’s a lot more innings in there as well.”

No Jim, you force them to throw good changeups. Watching Josiah Gray and Patrick Corbin throw a few changeups is not the same as having a ‘plus’ changeup. This is an issue here and always has been sans Scherzer and Strasburg. Those two pitchers came to the Nats with great changeups. Hickey said it right, guys don’t like the changeup because it’s not a sexy pitch. You’re the boss, mandate it! Starting pitchers must have at least three ‘plus’ pitches.

Priority #8: Spend money. In the short-term, the only way to fix this sooner than later is to spend. By our count based on the current CBA formula, the Nats 2022 payroll is at $135 million with projected arb-eligible salaries. Spend to $185 million in total, and give Rizzo $50 million to spend this winter, and hopefully more.

Priority #9: If you have the money, try to sign the right-handed outfielder Adam Duvall who can play any outfield position as well as DH. That allows you to play Yadiel Hernandez in leftfield and DH. It also lengthens the bench if Ryan Zimmerman does not return for 2022. While getting Schwarber back would really solidify this offense, but he is most likely priced out of the Nats range. Maybe you look at someone like Joc Pederson too. An upgrade on offense and defense would be nice.

Priority #10: Win. This feels like 2022 is going to be a transitional year in this re-tool as Rizzo calls it. But there is no reason to wave the white flag and tank. There’s no reason for tanking. The team added so many players to the farm with trades and Brady House in the draft and the team will pick the highest they have picked since 2011 when they drafted Anthony Rendon at 6th overall. Remember, 2010 was the last of the tanking years before the team took off. Goals should be similar this off-season and 2022 should feel like 2011 all over again.

These priorities will change and evolve. The good news is there are no tough choices with free agents leaving. There will be a purge. Changes are needed. Rizzo will have to make some tough choices and it comes with the job. The team has to add really see what they have in Strasburg and Corbin, and it is quite possible we see mid-season additions like Cade Cavalli to the rotation.

With the trade acquisitions of Josiah GrayKeibert Ruiz and Lane Thomas, the team is so much further along than we thought when the team went into sell-off mode.

Think of a line-up of:

  1. Lane Thomas CF
  2. Alcides Escobar SS ✅
  3. Juan Soto LF
  4. Josh Bell 1B
  5. Adam Duvall RF
  6. Keibert Ruiz C
  7. Yadiel Hernandez/Ryan Zimmerman DH
  8. Josh Harrison/Brad Miller 3B
  9. Luis Garcia 2B

Starting rotation:

  1. Stephen Strasburg RHP
  2. Marcus Stroman RHP
  3. Josiah Gray RHP
  4. Patrick Corbin LHP
  5. TBD

With a good bullpen, that is an 81 win team, kind of like the 2011 Nats who went 80-81 that season. They did that with a starting rotation of Jordan ZimmermannJohn Lannan, 36-year-old Liván HernándezJason Marquis, and only 11 games from Chien-Ming Wang and 5 from Strasburg. It is possible.

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