There have been some interesting moves made in the Washington Nationals’ club during this winter’s off-season. After last season’s horrible follow-up from their first World Series win the season before, fans hoped to bring some familiar success back with some new additions.
You can check out my article “What the Heck Happened to the Washington Nationals?” for more on last season’s results.
Based on the first two moves made in the club, it looked like the Nats were headed towards a rebuilding season. Adam Eaton, the Nats primary right fielder who had only come to DC a few years before, returned to his old team, the Chicago White Sox, on a 1yr/$7M deal (with other considerations). This left a large hole on the right side, as many of the Nats other outfielders have had trouble playing the position in the past.
But, that outfield problem only got worse when OF Michael A Taylor, who had been with the Nats since his draft day, left for the Kansas City Royals on a 1yr/$1.75M deal. Although Taylor hadn’t been consistent in his performance level in the later years of his Nats’ stint, his presence on the roster allowed for the Nats to have options for their outfield arrangements. Now, the Nats had only three qualified outfielders to position.
OF Juan Soto, OF Victor Robles, and OF Andrew Stevenson were the only others who had substantial outfield experience these past few seasons. If an injury were to happen, they’d be out of luck.
Lack of quality catchers also became a significant issue this off-season, with C Kurt Suzuki leaving for the Los Angeles Angels. Although he wasn’t the best defensive catcher, his offensive skill had a large impact in the Nats lineup. The remaining catchers, Yan Gomes and Tres Barrera, aren’t quite enough to fill Suzuki’s hole.
Considering the Nats were tallied as the oldest team in the MLB two seasons ago, age was another huge factor to consider in this year’s moves. The team’s fan favorites, SP Max Scherzer, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, and IF Howie Kendrick are all at, or soon to be at, their natural breaking point. Zimmerman, who took this past season off, faced substantial injuries two seasons ago. Scherzer and Kendrick are also just not as dominant as they once were. Kendrick, realizing this, took it upon himself to retire this year after 15 MLB seasons.
Again, it looked like DC was headed towards another year of postseason disappointment. Losing core players and having others growing older and more fragile by the season, a situation similar to last year was expected.
Suddenly, though, the Nats turned their projections slightly around. The hole at first base was one the Nats filled quickly. From the Pittsburgh Pirates, 1B Josh Bell, 2019 All-Star and Home Run Derby participant, was acquired by the Nats on a 1yr/$3.65M contract. Although this is a short-term solution, Bell, known more for his offense than defense, is a great fit for a Nats team that had trouble scoring last season, finishing with a negative run differential and in the bottom third of all MLB teams in home runs and RBI.
They also acquired former Chicago Cubs OF Kyle Schwarber on a 1yr/$10M deal, a significant addition to solve some outfield issues. Again, although another possibly short stint, it still gives the Nats some breathing room. Schwarber is also another good bat to add some protection to Soto to the line up.
Also, in an attempt to fix the bottom part of the pitching rotation, the Nats acquired another former Chicago Cub in SP Jon Lester on a 1yr/$5M contract for some more emergency support. Even in his old age, Lester will definitely add depth to the rotation, and some more experience in that fourth spot.
The Nats also acquired another catcher in Alex Avila, formerly on the Minnesota Twins, on a 1yr/$1.5M contract. Even with his below average offensive slash line, Avila will still add some more security on the catching front.
More recently, the Nats acquired former Cleveland Indians RP Brad Hand to replace RP Sean Doolittle. With more versatility than the former Nat, Hand will be able to add more flexibility to the relief rotation.
Still, some of the remaining players are showing signs of success. On the starting pitching side, Scherzer, SP Stephen Strausburg, and SP Patrick Corbin still remain arguably the most dangerous trio in the NL East (when healthy, of course). Similarly to last season, Soto, one of MLB’s most vibrant young stars, is projected by many to be the winner of the NL MVP and post some obscene numbers that the Nats are looking forward to.
Yet, even with these new stars showing faces on the Nats roster and old faces looking to improve from last season, becoming a division winner won’t come easy as the competition in the NL East runs deep. Teams like the New York Mets, who acquired 4x All-Star SS Francisco Lindor among other stars this off-season, and the Atlanta Braves, who won the division last season, are showing signs of becoming the first and second places finishers in the division, with the Nats as a possibly competitive third or fourth place.
Regardless, hopefully these new free agency additions bring on some new found success. After last year’s disaster, it’s something all Nats fans are looking for. Watch the Nats arrive to Spring Training camp around February 17, and play their first game February 27 against the Houston Asterisks… I mean Astros.