The offseason ends in two weeks as the Washington Nationals officially welcome pitchers and catchers to open Spring Training camp! This is an offseason that many could not wait to end. When you do not make the postseason, the offseason gets lengthened to four and a half months — far too long, and this one was muddied by the ownership for-sale debacle. The additions to the roster through free agency, Rule-5, and waiver claims, won’t move the needle enough to contend for the postseason, rather 2023 will be about competing as a team in a rebuild mode and watching the progress of the Nats’ top prospects in the team’s minor league system.
By turning the calendar to another season, we also inch closer to being able to say that the team’s payroll commitments will only have one long-term deal remaining, and that is with Stephen Strasburg. After the 2023 season, it is just three more years left with the team’s longest tenured player. In fact, after this season, the team’s only other contractual obligations are to just Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams for 2024. That gives general manager Mike Rizzo nearly a clean canvas to start
painting spending. MLB.com just published the updated list of free agents after this 2023 season, and there are some interesting names on the list. If some of the Nats top prospects move up on a trajectory to be ready for 2024/2025, this could be the point where Rizzo goes into 2011 mode.
One key date to circle on your calendar is July 9. That is the day that the Washington Nationals will get the №2 pick in the draft, and in turn, should get a franchise-changing player with either Chase Dollander or Dylan Crews. Those college players can also hopefully be ready for the 2025 season giving a clearer vision to the start of the window to compete.
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
If Matt Eddy from Baseball America’s projections come close to reality for 2025, think of drafting Dollander, and signing a top free agent as the team’s veteran pitcher to lead the youngsters. A 2025 rotation of:
Of course, all of these names are just that — names on a board. It is a complicated jigsaw puzzle that has to be pieced together with precision, not forced into place. The factors to reach a player’s potential starts with good health, and earning a spot on the roster based on merit — not some prospect pedigree or ranking. This all takes time to come together. And of course tagging a free agent is more pie-in-the-sky along with the fact that Pittsburgh has the first pick in this year’s draft and could snag Dollander.
“Obviously you guys know that I strongly believe in pitching and defense,” manager Dave Martinez said after the 2020 season. “But without starting pitching, it’s hard to win championships. We proved that in 2019, so Rizzo and I are going to have conversations.”
Defense should be making a comeback with this 2023 Nats’ team. But the starting pitching is not built to where we need it. In 2012, the Nats had Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and had traded for a third ace in Gio Gonzalez. That was a formidable 1-2-3 punch. In 2015, Nats’ owner, Ted Lerner, paid up for Max Scherzer to form one of the best starting rotations on paper. The 2019 rotation was tweaked further as Corbin replaced Gonzalez in the rotation. The common denominator with the great Nats teams from 2012-2019 was legitimate aces at the top of the rotation. The Nats need that for 2025.
“…To win a championship, you’re going to have to go over budget, you’re going to have to take a risk,” Scott Boras said years ago. “…That’s why when they talked about Ted Lerner — Ted Lerner went out and signed Max Scherzer (in 2015) and gave him a record contract, record years, and he was annihilated for it! They told him that was a mistake. That was an overpay! Those types of owners that do that, and base it on a reasoned thought. But really it’s the will. It’s like a player who has a will to perform, to win, to do things…”
Yes, whoever owns the Nationals will need to spend again, and yes, maybe go over budget, and take calculated risks. While the younger Lerner is running things now, he needs to follow in this father’s footsteps and take the risks associated with trying to win. While Mark Lerner learned the hard way with Strasburg’s current deal, that is a reality that not everything works out, but I can tell you this, if you do nothing you generally set the clock back on progress. These next twelve months will be very telling as to the future of this team. Progress takes time.