2021 Nationals Player Grades Part 6

Photo by Lynn G. for TalkNats

This is the final installment of reviewing the 2021 Washington Nationals roster. The players listed here alphabetically go from “St” to “Z”. The two longest tenured Nats players are on this part of the list: Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP: Before anything else is said, Strasburg will always have a spot in Nats lore. He carried the team to their 2019 title, and won World Series MVP along the way. After the season, he opted-out of his previous long-term contract to become a free agent and capitalize on his dominance. That new contract was costly for the Nats to the tune of $35 million annually, and this new contract, so far, has been a disaster.

Strasburg was a player the team seemingly had to re-sign. The emotions after the title run were too high to let him walk. He signed a deal that ensured he would get $35 million annually. Through two seasons of the deal, he has pitched a grand total of 26 2/3 innings, and most of them were not good. That equals $2.625 million per inning. In 2020, we saw him battle injuries to the point where he got carpal tunnel surgery to end his year. For 2021, it was supposed to be a rebound season for him, but he continued to battle injuries and after several different diagnosis, he had thoracic outlet surgery. It is tough to watch him struggle so mightily with staying healthy. He certainly has a future with the club as the highest paid player, and the question will continue to be can he be a productive player?

Wander Suero, RHP: Wander Suero was a pitcher who manager Dave Martinez relied on to get big outs late in games and pushed him hard to begin the season. Suero ended up on the injured list and returned as a shell of his former self in 2021, struggling out of the bullpen most of the year. He was sent down to AAA with Tanner Rainey, but he was able to return late in the year. Hopefully, he can find his 2019 form to be a piece of the bullpen moving forward. We will see if he is kept for the 2022 season.

Lane Thomas, OF: Thomas was sent to D.C. in the Jon Lester trade, and was one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the season. A player who never was known for his hitting abilities at the MLB level in his short stints in the past two years, he arrived and did nothing but hit it seemed. At times he slumped against some of the best right-handed pitchers, but overall you had to like what you saw from him with an .853 OPS. He eventually forced the Nats to send down Robles to Triple-A. While Thomas did perform very well in his month and a half as the starter, it is hard to say whether or not he is a main piece of the rebuild going forward or if this was just a small sample size anomaly that Thomas cannot repeat. 

Mason Thompson, RHP: Yet another prospect acquired and consequently called up by the Nats in 2021, Thompson had an uneven couple of months with the Nats. Although it was his first MLB season, he proved to fans and executives alike that his blazing fastball is capable of getting outs against professional hitters — just not consistently. His 4.15 ERA looked lucky compared to his FIP of 5+, and that makes sense since his WHIP was an horrific 1.938.All of this comes with a caveat that his control often faltered.

Fans might look at his surface statistics (ERA, win-loss, strikeouts, walks) and wonder what went wrong for the 23 year old. The simple answer is that if his control improves, he should be well positioned long-term. Potentially, the answer lies in a deeper response. Multiple instances suggest that he threw more pitches and ultimately paid dearly for it. Thompson struggled to put away hitters despite his awe-inspiring movement on both his fastball and breaking ball. At times, it seemed that hitters could sit on his fastball. It is a great trait to be able to throw with great velocity, but in 2021, batters are prone to hitting high velocity. He has a role in the MLB next season, but improvements are necessary to take the next step in his development and stay in the MLB which is the key.

Trea Turner, SS: Like Soto, there is not very much new commentary to make that has yet to have been said. His blazing speed and pure athleticism is something to behold. He got out to a torrid start to the season, culminating in his first career All Star selection. For the first time in his career, he put everything together, contact, power, defense, base running, and was able to stay healthy in the process. However, with his success comes a familiar fate for Nats fans.  There was a growing consensus that Turner and the Nats would not be able to agree to terms on an extension. In response, Mike Rizzo shocked everyone when he traded Turner to the Dodgers along with Max Scherzer. The justification was about the increasing price tag for Turner and the inability to reach said price tag. Nonetheless, he remains on the Dodgers and is entering his contract year in 2022.

Austin Voth, RHP: Voth, despite his struggles, is someone who fills a huge void in the Nationals’ bullpen. While the prototypical “long reliever” has all but been phased out of the game, the multi-inning reliever has popularized. The difference is painstakingly close, but Voth is the multi-inning reliever for the Nats. He struggles with effectiveness at times, not exactly a great trait for a reliever, but can eat up innings in blowouts. Considering the potential makeup of the 2022 roster, that role might be very valuable. 

Cody Wilson, OF: There is very little to say about Wilson, similar to his limited contribution in 2021. He was called up out of sheer necessity to open the season as the team dealt with a Covid-19 outbreak. He had a single at bat, failing to record his first MLB hit. Wilson is, however, a player who had yet to play at the upper levels of the minor leagues. Meaning it was not exactly a surprise that he both got little playing time nor that he was unsuccessful. Once the Nats got healthy again (literally), he was quickly sent down. After the Nats overhauled their minor league system, it is very uncertain if he gets another shot in the MLB. 

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B: The Face of the Franchise could soon become the former FotF.  Father Time is quickly approaching. Years and years of injuries took its toll on Zim and may have expedited this aging process. At this point, few have played longer than he has which is a testament to his perseverance to overcome the obstacles.  After sitting out in 2020 as was allowed for COVID, Zimmerman was signed to a bench player type of deal ahead of the 2021 season. He found himself on the short-end of a platoon with Josh Bell, and that kept Zim fresh. He found a lot of playing time early in the season as Bell struggled with both Covid-19 and ineffectiveness. As the season wore on, his role diminished as Bell turned around his season. By the time the season was over, Zimmerman’s career had revolved in a full circle as the team was in the basement yet again, and that almost mirrored the circle of life. The final home game of the season was clearly an emotional one for both Zimmerman and the fans. It has been speculated that he will retire following the season. As it currently stands, he has yet to do so, but his expiring contract and reluctance to play for another franchise makes retirement a massive possibility. If it is the end for Mr. National, it is certainly a career to remember as he owns pretty much every single record in team history. More than his on field contributions, he has always been a fan favorite and a First Class humanitarian. 

The 162 game grind for the Nats was just that. The entire season was like a roller coaster at an abandoned amusement park: scary, uncertain, and at times deteriorating. For all the pessimism, the team has a very bright future if they can get the player development figured out. They have many prospects already on the roster and many more in the minor league system. However, the season was marred by the ugly record and last place finish for the team. Depending on the offseason, it could be another tough year for the club. One thing that they have going for them is that Soto is still on the roster moving forward. Regardless of where a fan stands on the debate regarding large extensions, it is clear that the Nats need to lock up Juan Soto for the long haul. The 2021 season is one that will be remembered for a long time to come. Only time will tell if that is for the positive steps the franchise took or if they sold away their shot at another title run. The Nats are on this road and their car does not have a reverse function.

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