A (Way Too Early) Back of the Envelope Offseason Plan

Davey Martinez looks toward the future ... uhhh, metaphorically. - Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

This is just starting the conversation, because I recognize that there are many, many variables that could easily shake down this house of cards.

ROSTER. Currently the Nationals have 47 players (26 pitchers, 4 catchers, 9 infielders, 7 outfielders, and 1 DH) on their 40 man roster. The overage is because of seven players that are currently on the 60 day IL (Stephen Strasburg; Victor Arano; Cade Cavalli; Carl Edwards, Jr.; Riley Adams; Stone Garrett; and Victor Robles). They have to make room for six of these players as soon as the WS is over (CEJ will become a free agent at that point). But there are a lot of ways to do that. In my back of the envelope plan the team reaches an accommodation with Strasburg that opens up a roster spot, and the team declines its option on Victor Robles. I expect that Robles will hook on with another team and kick around baseball for a few years like Brian Goodwin and (more successfully) Michael A. Taylor did. I expect that whenever he goes on a heater we will see a lot of hand wringing and when he's bad we won't notice him at all. Par for the course. That gets us down to needing four spots on the 40 man roster, plus any that we need to protect minor leaguers from the Rule 5 Draft and to sign potential free agents. Fortunately, there are some easy DFAs currently on the 40 man roster. Pitchers Cory Abbott, Matt Cronin, Hobie Harris, Amos Willingham, and possibly even Mason Thompson are on the list. At catcher Israel Pineda took a real step backwards as Drew Millas emerged and so could be another candidate although he's still young. In the outfield Jeremy de la Rosa hasn't really hit above A ball, and they've got the expendable retreads Travis Blankenhorn and Blake Rutherford, too. That's nine. Robles is an option to decline, but there are also arb eligible players who could be non-tendered like Michael Chavis, Roddery Munoz, and (possibly) Dom Smith (see infield, below). That leaves five-nine spots. 2-3 of those will go to protect players from the Rule 5 draft (DJ Herz is a lock, with Cole Henry and a couple of other possibilites. Suffice it to say that I don't think that the 40 man roster will hold the Nats back from making moves.

STARTING PITCHING. Sorry, y'all, but I still have Corbin on the rotation. My plan is to sign at least two free agent pitchers, one from the tier of Jordan Montgomery/Shota Imanaga (the "other" NPB pitcher likely to be posted this offseason) and one bounce-back candidate like Frankie Montas. The rotation can will start with FA/Gore/Gray/Corbin and the winner of a ST competition between the bounce back FA, Irvin, Rutledge, Herz, Ward, and Adon. I suppose that Trevor Williams could be mentioned there as well, but I have him going back to the bullpen into the swing starter/long man role in which he previously thrived. The four also rans will all be in the high minors plying their trade and waiting as depth options. Cade Cavalli is likely to return in the June/July time frame, at which time the Nats may finally be good enough to ticket Corbin out of town. Or possibly move him if he's actually pitching well (it could happen!).

That sounds like a lot of pitchers, but the 2024 Nats will likely need them all. Other than Cavalli, the Nationals were very fortunate in the health of their MLB rotation.That's not likely to repeat.

BULLPEN: Surprisingly, not a lot of changes. They sorted a lot of the chaff out of the bullpen as the season went along. They needed a long man in the bullpen this year, but Williams should slot into that role. The back of the bullpen will be (in some order) Harvey, Rainey, and Finnegan. Lower leverage includes Thompson and Weems from the right side and two lefties in Robert Garcia and La Sorsa. That's eight, and they can filter through some minor league/ST invite types for depth.

CATCHER: They have Ruiz, Adams, and Millas. That's fine.

INFIELD: The lineup needs more pop, but I think that we're going to have to be patient. The prospects (House, Morales, and Lipscomb) are close in about that order. There's not much on the free agent market (I'm not a big Rhys Hoskins fan, except maybe on a one year pillow contract as a pure DH - in which case Joey is DFA'd). The one signing that I might consider would be a return of Jeimer Candelario to a 3-4 year reasonable contract (~13M/season). That would be ideal, because he would be a placeholder at 3b until House or Morales is ready and then move over to 1b until someone pushes him off. Sadly, I think that he will want more years/money than that and might well get it. Without him the placeholders are Vargas and Smith again. Vargas if almost an ideal utility guy, and both can play defense, but neither has the thump you really want from your corner infield. Second base is going to be a competition between Alu, Garcia, and maybe Chavis depending on how the roster mechanics shake out. Lipscomb is more of a hope than a plan at this point. Alu could end up as the IF/OF swing at the end of the bench until some of the prospects arrive.

OUTFIELD: If Garrett is healthy, your OD outfield is most likely Garrett/Young/Thomas. I expect that Wood and Crews will get invites to ST. With a great spring one of them (I doubt both, but it would be great) could start on Opening Day. The new CBA is more lenient towards starting hot prospects on OD, so I don't expect service time shenanigans. OTOH, I don't really expect Wood and Crews to burn down ST either. The goal is both Crews and Wood in the OF with Thomas and Young sliding into a 4th OF role. Hassell is going to need more time, and obviously Elijah Green has to at least mitigate his contact problem without losing his power to get back into the picture.If Garrett is NOT ready, things get more grim. The free agent options are pretty grim, and in any event the Nats don't want to make a long term commitment to an outfielder with the prospect queue there. If there was the right candidate there I might see a long term commitment so that you could package one of the top prospects to land a TOR pitcher. I just don't see the right candidate in this year's FA class. At which point you are looking at AAAA lifers (like Blankenhorn and Rutherford) or second tier/bounce back type FA options. Not great.

SUMMARY: I recognize that the best case scenario for the roster above would be around a .500 record and marginal wild card contention. For me, as long as the kids stay healthy and progress that would be a successful season. It would put the Nationals in position to gun for a true ace in free agency to put at the top of the rotation so they could battle for the top of the division in 2025.

It could happen!

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