For a Washington Nationals team coming off of a 107-loss season, you would not expect much excitement — or lengthy storylines. But there is plenty to talk about when your team is potentially for sale. Let’s talk about the biggest stories leading into this 2023 season.
1. Ownership. On April 11 and nearly nine months ago, the Lerner family made it public that they would explore selling the team. The Lerner family has not been heard from in any official capacity regarding the Nationals in that entire timeframe.
Since we broke the news that Leonsis’ Monumental Sports & Entertainment group was the clear frontrunner in a purchase of the Nationals, the process has dragged on with the MASN valuation causing a large divide in the negotiations.
Today, we learned from a source that Leonsis is doing a “stall tactic” to wrap this up closer to when the season is nearing it’s start to align with when they can get past the offseason and start with a clean slate and start booking actual in-season revenues.
But could a stall tactic cost Leonsis? The Phoenix Suns and Mercury reportedly just sold last week for $4 billion after their most recent valuation was at $2.7 billion per Forbes for just the Suns. Could new buyers emerge in a market that is skyrocketing in new valuations? A source tells us that is always a strong possibility when prices are soaring.
2. The Draft. The Washington Nationals will be drafting at the №2 spot in the 2023 draft and should come away with a player that will impact this team for years to come. Right now it looks like the Nats would snag either Dylan Crews or Chase Dollander from that duo after the Pirates pick first in the draft.
It’s never too early to mock draft. 👀 pic.twitter.com/JVQmnUZ9zY
— MLB (@MLB) December 17, 2022
3. The top prospects in the farm system. The farm system has been ranked from №8 to №15 depending on where you look. The team moved into the top half of baseball after the team traded Juan Soto for an exciting package of top prospects. Depending on which ranking system you look at, the top prospects have James Wood, Elijah Green, Robert Hassell III, Cade Cavalli, and Brady House plus some exciting names after them with Cristhian Vaquero, Armando Cruz, Jarlin Susana, Jeremy De La Rosa, Jarlin Susana, T.J. White, and Jackson Rutledge.
Reading the Nationals’ Top 10 Prospects for the NOV issue of @BaseballAmerica—preorder your copy today!—I see Washington has a nice position core forming
— Matt Eddy (@MattEddyBA) October 26, 2022
We can certainly debate the Washington Nationals prospects lists and whether it should be Joey Meneses or White for first base, and Jake Alu for a starting spot or whereDe La Rosa, Vaquero and Cruz fit in.
4. The Nats core of players on the MLB roster. The previous core of the 2019 World Series team is all gone. A new younger core is emerging but none have achieved superstar status. While Cavalli is a prospect that could make the Opening Day roster, the current core of Luis Garcia, Keibert Ruiz, and CJ Abrams are already contributing for the Nats — and Garcia and Abrams could be the middle infield for a long time for the Nationals. Who else will join them? Josiah Gray must move up to their level, and hopefully are joined by Cavalli and MacKenzie Gore.
The corner infield could see Alu at third base and Meneses at first base until they are unseeded. It is the outfield that has the mega star prospect names in Green, Wood, and Hassell III with Vaquero a year or two behind them. The athleticism in that outfield is off the charts. Whoever the Nats draft in 2023 what that №2 pick will jump to the top of the discussions of the future core.
For anyone paying attention, it is the starting rotation that remains the biggest question mark for the future of this team. Cavalli, Gore, Cole Henry and Rutledge are/were all Top-100 prospects, but all four have been hit with the injury bug, and Henry’s TOS surgery puts a cloud over him.
We will see how general manager Mike Rizzo will build a starting rotation with no clear №1 pitcher. Susana, Jake Bennett, Andry Lara, Aldo Ramirez, Mitchell Parker, and Rodney Theophile are all starters at High-A and below to keep an eye on.
5. Meneses sophomore season. After Meneses put up a Topps Rookie All-Star season, we have to see what is next for the 30 year old. Baseball is always skeptical of magical two-month seasons.
While Meneses led all qualified 2022 MLB rookies in many key offensive categories including batting average, slugging, OPS, OPS+, wOBA, and wRC+, he did not receive one Rookie of the Year vote across all ballots from first place to third place. Nobody with a brain thought Meneses had a chance to win the ROY, but a vote or two on that third place ballot would have been a fitting nod to one of the best 56-game spans for a rookie, ever.
With 12 seasons in the minor leagues, Meneses hit for a very respectable average of .281. During his MVP season for the Triple-A affiliate for the Phillies, he had an average of .311, while hitting 23 HR’s with 82 RBIs. For the Nats in 2022, he slashed .324/.367/.563 with a .930 OPS. If he can replicate that through the All-Star break in 2023, he will be an All-Star. If.
“He [did] it all year,” Martinez said. “We [had] been watching him all year, even in Rochester, and he’s been hitting all year long, and nothing has changed. That’s one thing that I reiterate to him is nothing changes when you come up here. You drove the ball from right field to left field. Just do the same thing, stay on the ball, and he’s been awesome.”
6. Team defense. The Nats hot streak started the day that Abrams was called up to join Ruiz and Meneses. In the sixteen games that Abrams, Meneses, and Ruiz started together — the team went 9-7 (.563 winning percentage) and finally the pitching staff was looking like they were good. Much of that could be attributed to the new infield defense that ranked sixth in the Majors in that span from dead last in the 116 games before.
“Yeah. You know what, I liked what I saw towards the end. Our defense was better,” manager Dave Martinez admitted at the Winter Meetings.
His pitching staff finished with an MLB worst 5.97 ERA but it was over 6.00 before mid-August.
“One, it had a lot to do with our defense early. It really did,” Martinez said. “I think we improved once we got CJ [Abrams] playing shortstop to move Luis [Garcia] over to second base, and [Ildemaro] Vargas did a great job for us at third base.”
You hope that we never see a roster built on such poor defense. Yes, every once in a while you sign a Daniel Murphy because the offense will exceed the defensive negatives, but now the NL has a universal DH so you really have to try to get the balance right.
7. A winning team concept won’t arrive for a while. The Nats are built today to lose 93 games, and that is a 14-game improvement over last year. Those projections are courtesy of FanGraphs that has projected the Nats at a .428 winning percentage and a 28.3 team WAR. Every team starts with 40 wins and you add the WAR and you get fairly close to the projection.
It is not great to be in a position where you know you have little chance to compete for the postseason. But you have to try to beat even the projections. Win 73-games with a contributing core, and that will feel like a positive 2023 season.
“We’re young, but we can compete,” Martinez said. “And, I don’t want them to think that, hey, we’re rebuilding. We are here to compete, and we’re trying to win as many games as possible, and that’s going to be the message. I’ve sent that message at the end of the season, and I want them to understand that, hey, losing 100 games is not acceptable. It’s not. We’re going to get better. So I want them to come to Spring Training knowing we’re going to compete and compete to win every day.”