As we all know, as of next week (September 1) teams may play anyone on the 40 man roster - i.e., they are no longer subject to the 25 man "active roster" limitation. Right now the Nationals show 42 players on their 40 man roster, as players that are on the 60 day DL do not count against the limit, and Elvin Ramirez and Stephen Strasburg are both on the 60 day DL. As of next week expect the Nationals to call up at least three players from AAA Syracuse that are already on the 40 man roster: Chris Marrero, Roger Bernadina (who should have been up already) and Atahualpa Severino (who still won't be permitted to pitch). They may also call up Corey Brown, who has had a few good weeks at AAA after four dreadful months. None of these will require additional moves. Activating Doug Slaten from his rehab assignment after September 1 also doesn't involve an additional move, because Slaten was only on the 15 day DL.
The Nationals will also (knock on wood) be activating Stephen Strasburg. They will therefore lose his exemption from the 40 man roster and will need to make a move. However, this is not challenging; the National have at least three players (Adam Carr, Cole Kimball and Adam LaRoche) who could be shifted to the 60 day DL. This makes room for Strasburg, and also for two other players. Great!
Now it gets a little harder, because the Nationals have talked about activating three other players: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone. None of these players are currently on the 40 man roster. One possible answer would be to shove Pudge Rodriguez onto the 60 man DL. With the need to play Flores, this isn't that much of a problem - although I'm guessing Pudge would prefer to play, I'm not sure how much opportunity he would get anyway. This would get the Nationals through the end of the 2011 season. Excellent! But now it just gets harder.
AFTER THE SEASON
This is where the juggling act begins, and where Rizzo inking Harper, Rendon and Purke to ML contracts begins to squeeze the team a bit. After the end of the season, players on the 60 man DL must be reinstated to the 40 man roster or designated for assignment. In practical terms, your 40 man roster is only allowed to have 40 men on it. To RobBob's dismay, that means that LaRoche counts again. So do Carr and Kimball.
In the short term this is not an issue, because free agents do not count against the roster, and the Nationals have at least eight players on the 40 man roster who will be free agents after the season: Todd Coffey; Livan Hernandez; Chien-Ming Wang; Ivan Rodriguez; Alex Cora; Rick Ankiel; Jonny Gomes; and Laynce Nix. So even with the three players coming back, the Nationals will have five extra slots. Four if they offer Gomes arbitration, which they may well do if he qualifies for Type B free agent status. Because Gomes hasn't hit much this year, the Nationals run the risk of Gomes accepting arbitration and taking up a roster slot. No worries, we have plenty, right?
This is where it gets fun. Remember Rule 5? The Nationals have used it in recent years to raid other teams for players, most notably for Jesus Flores. Last year the results weren't so good: the Nationals picked up Elvin Ramirez and Brian Broderick. Ramirez (perhaps conveniently) got hurt and Broderick went back to the Cardinals when the Nationals needed his roster spot. The Nationals lost infielder Michael Martinez to the Phillies (of all people) and he's still there. And this year a LOT of players in the Nationals organization are subject to the Rule 5 draft, at least according to a post that I saw over at Nationals Prospects. They include Peacock, Milone and Lombardozzi, mentioned above; that's why I think they all get called up, because they're going to need to be protected anyway. If that post is right, here are some of the other players the Nationals will need to protect or risk losing them:
Carlos Alvarez (aka Bowden's Folly - he's actually putting up good numbers in low A ball this year after being in visa limbo for two years - not surprising since he's old for the league) (25, IF, .352/.438/.462 at Auburn (NYPL))
Matt Antonelli (26yo, IF, 292/.382/.444 at AAA)
Erik Arnesen (27, RHP, 8-4, 8.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 2.56 ERA, 1.118 WHIP at AA)
Archie Gilbert (27, OF, 308/.381/.475, 11 HR at AA)
Erik Komatsu (from the Hairston trade) (23, CF, 282/.371/.394, 7HR, 20/28 SB at AA)
Shairon Martis (24, RHP, 7-5, 10 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 2.98 ERA, 1.256 WHIP at AA)
Brad Meyers (26, RHP, 5-4, 7.4 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 3.62 ERA, 1.268 WHIP at AAA)
Tyler Moore (24, 1b, 265/.302/.510, 27 HR at AA)
Derek Norris (22, C, .199/.355/.432, 18 HR at AA)
Josh Smoker (22, LHP, 10.3 K/9! 6.3 BB/9! 1.52 ERA, 1.289 WHIP at A+)
Jhonatan Solano (26, C, 282/.339/.405, 5 HR at AAA
Zachry Zinicola (26, RHP, 9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.99 ERA 1.059 WHIP at AA)
There are a bunch of others, but these are the significant ones. Expect Norris to be elevated, because even though his batting average has fallen two straight years his OBP and power numbers (especially now that he's healed from the hamate surgery last year) are too good to expose, especially given his youth. The rest of these are tougher. I expect that Moore, Solano, Komatsu, Smoker and Meyers will get serious consideration. Moore has big league power, but will he ever be a big league player? He's also blocked by Morse, LaRoche and Marrero even if the Nats don't go outside for a FA 1b. Smoker is (with JZim) half of the Alphonso Soriano compensation. He spent years being terrible, but has discovered new life as a flame throwing lefty out of the pen - just in time for the Rule 5 draft (thanks, Josh). He's only doing it at Potomac, though - and his control is still lousy (6.3 BB/9). But lefties are always in demand.
The Nationals can't protect all of these guys without exposing other players. Of the players on the 40 man roster that could be moved, Adam Carr is the most likely candidate to go. Garrett Mock isn't far behind him, although I agree with RobBob that he is showing just enough as a possible relief pitcher that he may survive - for now. Because he got hurt, the Nationals would have to offer Ramirez back to the Mets before trying to send him to the minors. Of the rest of the Rule 5 eligibles, I'd be shocked if anyone took Alvarez. But he's hit well enough to at least be on the fringes of the radar; the question is whether he can take the bat with him to higher levels. Martis is what he is - with the pitching depth in the organization it might be good for him to get a Rule 5 shot somewhere else. I don't know enough about Zinicola to say whether the numbers are a mirage or not.
With only 4-5 roster spots open, the Nationals are likely to lose some players in the Rule 5 draft this year. One cost of building the farm system is that a team becomes the hunted in the Rule 5 process. And don't forget that any free agent the Nationals sign (Wang, Mark Buehrle, or Yu Darvish on the mound? Pudge Rodriguez for a top notch defensive backup with great intangibles and no bat? Prince Fielder to play 1b? One or both of the Gomes/Nix for DJ's "hairy bat on the bench"?) costs them another roster spot. Unless they make multi-player trades, that roster is going to be very crowded very quickly. IRWT?