At this point in time two years ago, the Washington Nationals were the reigning World Series champs. In a short time, this team has hit the skids. With a last place finish last year, this team is stuck in its place until they can show a future direction. Of course baseball is in a lock-out which will not allow for any moves on the MLB roster, and general manager Mike Rizzo did not show us enough to determine a direction in the near-term.
The team’s most significant signings, so far, in the off-season were the re-inking of Alcides Escobar and signing free agent Cesar Hernandez. The team made the move to tender contracts to several arbitration-eligible players including starting pitcher Joe Ross who is recovering from a partial tear of his UCL. Other than that it has been a few minor league moves for Maikel Franco and Dee Strange-Gordon (both official) which will give Rizzo a whole bunch of players with one-year of team control to go with Josh Bell. The team also claimed former top-prospect Lucius Fox off of waivers, and he adds 40-man depth as of now. To sum it up, that has been all of the action.
In terms of WAR for the players on one-year deals, Hernandez is projected at +1.7 in 2022, and Escobar at only +0.1 after his excellent +1.7 last year in just 75 games. Josh Bell is a +1.8 WAR at 147 games. Franco and Gordon are not on the 40-man roster, but MLBTR projects that they will get some playing time, but no real WAR impact at +0.1 and 0.0 WAR respectively.
Of note, Fangraphs is projecting Juan Soto to be the top player in all of baseball at a +7.2 WAR. The Nats second best player as projected by Fangraphs: That would be Keibert Ruiz at a +2.4 WAR. For the fourth straight year, Fangraphs stays bullish on Carter Kieboom, but more tempered this time at +1.3 WAR. For the pitchers, they have Patrick Corbin at a +2.7 WAR and Stephen Strasburg at +2.6 WAR to lead the pitchers. That is a significant increase for Corbin who finished 2021 at a WAR of just +0.2.
Fangraphs has Lane Thomas as a contributor and ahead of Victor Robles in terms of both WAR and playing time. The team could still use an upgrade for the corner outfield, third base, starting pitching and of course, the bullpen.
When MLB free agency opens back up, we will see who Rizzo targets, if anyone. At MLBTR, they remind us that there are dozens of impact free agents remaining, plus there are trades to be made. The Nats are in a good position to add payroll. We estimate that the team has an AAV payroll committed at approximately $137 million.
From that MLBTR list, the one player who was tied most notably to the Nats was Kyle Schwarber. He could be a good fit, especially with a new CBA that is expected to have a full-time DH in the National League. But the team could also look to teams looking to shed payroll like the Cincinnati Reds who would like to get rid of the disappointing Mike Moustakas who batted just .208 with a .653 OPS in his age 32 season last year for the Reds. He is owed $38 million for the next two seasons (includes a $4 million option buyout in 2024). It is hard to see why any team would want Moustakas unless there were other impact players included with him.
There is no way that Rizzo is finished with his 2022 roster. But we have to wait for MLB to lift their embargo to restart business. For now, we will just dream up a few scenarios.