The Offseason is over as the Preseason begins!

This was a long off-season for the Washington Nationals when their offseason began at 6:20 pm EDT on October 1 of last year and ended today with the official opening of their Spring Training camp. The team missed the postseason for the fourth consecutive season after winning the World Series in 2019. This offseason totaled 136 long days.

This offseason seemed long because not enough priorities were met. Yes, it is possible that some of the priorities will be achieved during Spring Training. We fully expected general manager Mike Rizzo to sign a frontline starting pitcher which was a goal that he set for the team too. We had also hoped for the second consecutive year that the team would extend shortstop, CJ Abrams, contract for the next 8-to-10 years, and that has not happened yet.

Last season was better than expected for the Nats, but the team still fell well short of the playoffs with 71 wins. Rizzo had said after the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons that he did an autopsy on the season. In a literal sense, autopsies are performed on corpses to determine the cause of death. Metaphorically, Rizzo was right. But this year he did not speak about a 2023 season autopsy at his annual Hot Stove “State of the Union” address to invited season ticket holders in January.

“We gave ourselves an autopsy of how things went. What went right and what went wrong [during the season].”

— Rizzo delivered that message in January 2021 and repeated similar messages in the subsequent two seasons

Both Riz and manager Dave Martinez return this year with those new multi-year contract extensions they received last year. They welcome only a few new 40-man roster players to the Circle of Trust, and some new NRIs.

Honestly, it is hard to give Rizzo better than a D- grade on the offseason. He still has time to redeem himself. Maybe most of the blame goes to the Lerner ownership group if they did in fact press Rizzo with tight budget constraints. But Rizzo got most of the credit for the winning years when ownership was spending top of the league money. The Rays and Orioles made the playoffs last year and spent under $75 million each on payroll. The Nats’ player payroll has grown barely more than the rate of inflation to $111 million from $101 million on last year’s Opening Day. That is almost exactly 10 percent growth. Not enough.

“It’s [Mike Rizzo’s] call as to how he wants to fill the holes … a free agent or whatever, he knows the gameplan he wants to follow … whatever he desires. He knows he has the resources … to build a winner.”

— owner Mark Lerner said in an exclusive team interview at the end of the season

Build a winner? Come on Mr. Lerner. The evaluators aren’t buying it, and most fans aren’t either. Actions speak louder than words. They think you built a loser for the fifth consecutive year. PECOTA has the Nats finishing with a 58-104 record. Vegas has the Nats at 66.5 wins for their Over/Under betting lines, and FanGraphs has the Nats at a .405 winning percentage which translates to 66 wins. That is far from winning and going backwards from last year’s 71 wins.

There are plenty of storylines in every Spring Training camp. Most camps take on a feeling of belief and a sense of renewal and optimism. For some players it isn’t about optimism, it is about making the roster, and for those players, camp will be a battle — a fight for the last few roster spots. Usually we await some clues on a lineup or starting rotation, but unless Jackson Rutledge, DJ Herz, or a new acquisition shoves their way into the picture — we expect the starting rotation to look like it was in August of last year. We never expected Trevor Williams to still be the presumptive fifth starter — yet, here we are. Rizzo to this point has not signed a pitcher to seed in front of him.

As of today this is how we expect the rotation to look:

  1. Josiah Gray
  2. MacKenzie Gore
  3. Jake Irvin
  4. Patrick Corbin
  5. Trevor Williams

Of course the ordering of the rotation is not the focus here, rather the names of the five starters. And the starting lineup will be largely dependent on Stone Garrett‘s health after his leg injury in August. Newcomer Jesse Winker seems like the one NRI who could grab a spot on the Opening Day roster.

  1. SS CJ Abrams (L)
  2. RF Lane Thomas
  3. LF Joey Gallo (L)
  4. 1B Joey Meneses
  5. DH Stone Garrett or Jesse Winker (L)
  6. C Keibert Ruiz (SH)
  7. 3B Nick Senzel
  8. 2B Luis Garcia Jr. (L)
  9. CF Victor Robles or Jacob Young

Things could obviously change, and they usually do. Everything starts with the players’ health, contract status, and goes from there.

The bullpen has what appears to be six locks so far with Tanner RaineyKyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey at the back of the bullpen, and Jordan Weems is out of options. The team needs a long-man, and we will see who that is, and they also could use a hybrid reliever to give them multiple innings when needed. Joan Adon is without options, but he is also a pitcher without any success as a reliever. Jose A. Ferrer is a real contender as another lefty for the bullpen, and then there is also Mason Thompson, Thaddeus Ward, and Amos Willingham.

  1. Hunter Harvey
  2. Tanner Rainey
  3. Kyle Finnegan
  4. Dylan Floro
  5. Robert Garcia (L)
  6. Jordan Weems
  7. TBD
  8. TBD

The bench has no locks beyond Ildemaro Vargas. The backup catcher could be determined by the health of Riley Adams who is returning from hamate bone surgery in his hand/wrist at the end of last season. Carter Kieboom is out of options, and that becomes a big storyline for a former 1st round pick of the team. The Nats also have Rule-5 speedster, Nasim Nunez, in camp, and if he makes the team, it will most likely be on the bench. Alex Call and Jake Alu from the 40-man roster look like longshots to make the team right now.

  1. Ildemaro Vargas (SH)
  2. Drew Millas (SH) or Riley Adams
  3. Nasim Nunez or TBD
  4. Jacob Young or TBD

If the Nats starting rotation cannot step up, the 2024 season will not have a chance. Rizzo builds his teams on the pitching, but we know this is more of a year of rebuild. This will be the final season of team control on Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams. Right now that looks like future addition by subtraction, as well as freeing up nearly $30 million in payroll.

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