With Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the Nats are the worst team in baseball. What’s the plan?

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

The Washington Nationals have a 33.7 percent win rate. That is the worst record in Major League baseball at this point of the 2022 season. Scary to think the Nats need to go 20-44 just to finish at 53-109 and could be without Juan Soto and Josh Bell after August 2nd — but then again the Nats are 33-65 with them.

The Nats’ record is further proof that a few All-Star quality players cannot carry this team on their own. While most believe this team is still playing well below their abilities, there were never any expectations that the 2022 Nationals were going to win more than 75-games this year. The fact they might fall short of that was a combination of some key injuries, under-performing players, and the inconsistencies that have led to just 33-wins to this point.

Looking at BaseballReference.com’s “Late & Close” stat that calculates how a team performs in plate Appearances in the 7th inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck, the Nats are awful — slashing just .232/.304/.336 with a .640 OPS. Worse than that is the team is batting below Mendoza in the 9th inning this season. This team has no grand slams on the season despite 89 chances with the bases loaded. In addition, the Nats are the only team this season without a walk-off win. Can Ryan Zimmerman come out of retirement? Half-joking there. But this team hasn’t had a walk-off since Zim retired.

Worse than all of that is how poor the table-setting is on this team. The lineup’s first batter this season is batting just .218 on the season with an horrific .281 OBP. How do you table-set with that? Clearly the team must rebuild with a capable lead-off man. Trea Turner anyone? Of course the team will also need to build a middle of the order. All of that will take money, and development of the minor leaguers. The team unwisely wasted $15 million on Nelson Cruz who is batting .231 with a .663 OPS. He has near-zero trade value.

So with all of the bad facts, what is the good news? Potentially scoring big on trading Soto. Let’s face it, he isn’t staying and wants to head to free agency and it seems his agent, Scott Boras, wants to force a trade because he said they won’t sign an extension until they meet the new team owner. Well, that won’t happen until later this year, well after the trade deadline next week. The Nats are in a position to score enough prospects on Soto to thrust their farm system into the Top-5 if they play their cards well.

Good tweet by Clint Often, but his years are off, Soto is due to hit free agency in less than 2 years and 4 months. If Soto walks to free agency on the Nationals, the team can only Q.O. him and get a compensatory draft pick equal to the one they got for Bryce Harper. Why not cash in now on a haul, and be ready to compete with multiple players, and hope new ownership does want to spend huge in free agency.

Could you imagine Turner or Dansby Swanson at the top of the lineup with Aaron Judge in the middle. That would be a good start and wishful dreaming. If ownership was willing to spend $440 million on one player, spend a little more for two star players. Add a front of the rotation starter, and hope for progress from some of your young stars as well as the maturation of Cade Cavalli and hope to show team progress in 2023. Do the same for 2024 and 2025 and hope for significant progress from the player development side of the minor league system.

In 2026, I have circled that season as the year to compete for the NL East crown, but I could see 2025 as a year to seriously compete if things work-out like they did in 2012. Patrick Corbin‘s contract expires after the 2024 season and minor league top prospects should be nearing their time to compete in 2025-to-2026 like Brady House, Cristhian Vaquero, Armando Cruz, and Elijah Green. With any luck, another starting pitcher or two can emerge from the farm.

Also, the other teams in the NL East should be aging out seriously at that point with weak farm systems. Max Scherzer should be retiring by then — keep in mind he turns 38 years old tomorrow. Even Bryce Harper turns 30 this fall.

Look 2 years and 4 months into the future,  and imagine if the Nats were able to acquire Soto in free agency. He would be just 26 years old.

Now is the time to take advantage with a plan.

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