It’s no secret that the Washington Nationals have been one of the least successful teams in all of baseball since the franchise claimed its first World Series title back in the Fall of 2019. The timeline of doom started with the franchise choosing to pay the 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg over All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon. It’s true Rendon has yet to replicate his success in Washington in his new home of Los Angeles. However, it was still a mistake considering Strasburg has made just eight starts in the last three seasons. Other pieces from the 2019 run have retired in the years, like Howie Kendrick after the 2020 season and Nationals legend Ryan Zimmerman following another rough campaign.
The dog days of the 2021 season saw them famously trade away beloved franchise players and win an ugly 65 games, the franchise’s lowest win total since 2010. The loss of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the LA Dodgers spilled the end of an era for Nats baseball and the start of a new one. Many fans hoped the new era would still feature young MLB superstar Juan Soto but were sorely heartbroken when they traded him too before the 2022 trade deadline. All throughout the 2010s, it’s been a rinse-and-repeat process of featuring elite talent all over the baseball diamond before management decides not to pay the stars what they’re worth. The fans in Washington want a change at the highest level and soon enough a change could be made at the top which can lead the franchise to a brighter future.
Progress on the Ownership Front
All eyes on the Nationals lay first on the sights of who will buy the team. The Lerner Family intends to explore selling the franchise they’ve owned since 2006. While much is unknown about the financial details of the process of switching ownership, what is understood among all is the importance of the change. A new owner can lead to a radical shift in an organization from the front office to the field. Look at Washington’s NL East rival, the New York Mets who have paid more big names like Francisco Lindor and Max Scherzer since billionaire Steve Cohen entered the door. The deeper the owner’s pockets go, the more the general manager can work with in regards to paying stars the right figures for them to stay. It was the Lerners who couldn’t manage to pay franchise stars like Soto, Turner, and Rendon.
Sure, the position of Nationals owner isn’t among the most lucrative in the league but any open ownership job is enough to pique the interest of more than a few wealthy suitors. Based on the latest information, Ted Leonsis was the favorite to buy the franchise according to reports from this summer. The owner of two other Washington sports properties in the Wizards & Capitals looks would essentially have a monopoly on DC sports. There are of course plenty of other suitors but it’s unknown the level of interest for many. For now, the looming question mark of ownership is still a mystery with no eligible timeline. But, the best fans can hope for is progress towards a new transfer of ownership before the spring.
Replenish the Staff With Veteran Arms
The Nationals have produced a bottom-five starting pitching staff in baseball for the last three seasons. They ranked 26th in 2020, 24th in 2021, and a putrid 29th in 2022. A combination of regression and injuries has catapulted this once-vaunted unit to the pitching cellar. For 2023, Washington will place an emphasis on putting its young arms in positions to succeed. The likes of Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, and Cade Cavalli will certainly get their starts as they represent the future of this Nationals staff in the long term. Other spots in the rotation can be given to Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. However, the Nationals still need to bring in one or two quality veteran arms.
They can’t rely on Strasburg staying healthy, Corbin staying consistent and it’s likely Gore and Cavalli may not be ready for full-time spots in an MLB rotation yet. The pitchers on a short list to add are Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, and Wade Miley. All of these are options that are up there in age but that’s the point. Washington needs a veteran presence for the staff and Miley, Kluber and Syndergaard are all past their prime but can still offer value on the open market to a team with minimal expectations in 2023. The one expectation is for the Nationals young pieces to take a step forward and adding sage veterans to a barren staff is the right way to go to ensure that happens.
Bring in a Notable Name for the Corner Outfield
It’s a given the Nationals will be one of baseball’s worst in 2023. But that shouldn’t stop GM Mike Rizzo from being afraid to spend a little on upgrading certain positions. Washington’s production in the infield is certainly lackluster but the team’s future in part rests there. Keibert Ruiz is the franchise catcher Nats fans have wanted for so long. CJ Abrams is called up and ready to take on the role of shortstop in 2023. It remains to be seen whether Luis Garcia or Carter Keiboom can develop into everyday starting material but the Nats front office continues to offer them a strong leech. Then there’s the great story of Joey Meneses, who earned his spot as a lineup regular by hitting a .324 BA/.563 SLG/.930 OPS slash line in 56 games. The outfield for the Nationals also doesn’t have much to offer. However, the difference is the pieces there seem more expendable.
A couple of the Nationals top prospects are potential future stars in the outfield but likely won’t make an immediate impact in 2023. Top-rated prospect Robert Hassell III is due to come up in 2023 or 20245 while their third-ranked prospect James Wood won’t be called up until 2025. It’s feasible for the Nationals to use some of their available payroll to shell out some cash for a notable name to fill a corner outfield spot. Michael Conforto is looking for a new home and would be a big hit for contact boost at the top of the lineup. Wil Myers is another name that could go under the radar on the free agency market. Both Conforto and Myers are names that can be easily forgotten in a free agency class that boosts more high profile bats and gloves. The Nationals don’t need the big names, they need some baseline level of production at positions that aren’t filled by the young stars of the future.