The Nats future is bright beyond the bullpen

Let us state the obvious right now that the Washington Nationals bullpen is a mess. Okay, we got that out of the way. The future is bright, and that takes no sugarcoating. James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, Robert Hassell III, Cade Cavalli, Jarlin Susana, Jake Bennett, Yohandy Morales, Cristhian Vaquero, and even Elijah Green are 10 of the Nats’ minor leaguers that are the near-future on this team. Add major league pieces of MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz with those top prospects, and sprinkle in a top free agent or two, and 2025 and beyond looks incredible.

The team also controls Lane Thomas through the 2025 season, Joey Meneses for five years beyond this season, and second baseman Luis Garcia through the 2027 season. Starters Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams are free agents after next season, and the team’s clear need, besides fixing the bullpen, is to add an ace to the front of the starting rotation going forward.

Let’s start with 2024, 2025, and 2026 lineups. Matt Eddy of Baseball America was kind enough to respond with how he sees it for 2026 after this draft. That all seems reasonable, but the team could certainly use a bridge to the future with a player like Jeimer Candelario for 2024 for third base, and he could shift to first base or the DH for 2025 and 2026.

There are some holes for the 2024 season, even if James Wood makes the Opening Day lineup. The 2025 and 2026 lineups look great, and obviously there can be other players that push through the system to compete for spots like Trey Lipscomb, Drew Millas, and Daylen Lile.

The pitching staff looks very iffy for 2024 given the state of the bullpen, and Cade Cavalli working his way back from his UCL surgery on his pitching elbow. It is the final year of Corbin, and who knows what he will be next year. General manager Mike Rizzo has to fix the bullpen which should make the starting pitching look better for the mere fact that a stronger bullpen helps the starting pitchers because you do not have to push them further and further in games and past their line of exhaustion and effectiveness.

The most glaring needs for this 2024 roster is to sign an ace starter through free agency (easier said than done) and fix the bullpen.

This team needs that ace pitcher to anchor the starting rotation. Who can Rizzo get is a tall order. There will be at least a dozen teams in the market for one of the ace starters, although much fewer for Shohei Ohtani who might cost well over $500 million. Many more teams will be in on Lucas Giolito and Aaron Nola. The Nats payroll is in great shape for 2025, and only Ruiz on the long-term budget for 2027 because Corbin and Williams come off the books after 2024, and Stephen Strasburg‘s deal expires after the 2026 season. Ohtani just turned 29 this month, and same with Giolito.

“It all starts with starting pitching,”  manager Dave Martinez said last year. “Our starting pitching needs to get better, that’s for sure.”

It really is about the starting pitching — but the bullpen cannot be ignored as a great bullpen and competent defense will make your starting pitchers look even better.

“Starting pitching is the driver to me,” Rizzo said years ago.  “ . . . We’ve built our [rosters] based on having a guy in the middle of the diamond who gives us a chance to win every day.”

If this Nats’ team wants to reinvigorate their fan base and show a long-term commitment to winning, it is time to sign one of those ace pitchers.

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