Since shocking the baseball world with their World Series run in 2019, the Nationals have put together a pair of disappointing, forgettable last place campaigns, losing 97 games in 2021. Unfortunately for DC fans, a similar story seems to be being written for 2022, albeit with some new cast of characters after the team’s firesale in 2021, trading away nearly anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor.
Brad Hand went to Toronto for a young catcher, Kyle Schwarber to Boston for a pitching prospect, veterans Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison were packaged to Oakland for a trio of prospects. But the real headliner maker came on July 30, when franchise cornerstones Max Scherzer and Trea Turner were dealt to the Dodgers in exchange for four players, headlined by catcher Keibert Ruiz and pitcher Josiah Gray.
All of this dealing left the Nationals firmly in “rebuilding” territory, as their major league roster has been depleted in favor of the farm system. Their offense is still home to the best hitter on the planet, Juan Soto. There is little doubt about how great Soto will be, but one batter alone does not make a lineup, and the batters around Soto range from alright to abysmal. Josh Bell is the only returnee to provide notable lineup protection, as Bell put together a 124 OPS+. After Bell, there’s a smattering of young talent yet to put it together (Keibert Ruiz, Carter Kieboom, and Victor Robles), and over-the-hill veterans (Alcides Escobar, Cesar Hernandez). The front office has been abnormally active for a team in such a deep rebuild. They’ve brought in the aforementioned Hernandez, as well as more infield depth in Dee Strange-Gordon, Maikel Franco, and Ehire Adrianza. The most notable addition has been DH Nelson Cruz, who will provide added lineup protection and mentorship for Soto until late July when he’ll likely be dealt to the highest bidder. These are exactly the sort of moves rebuilding teams should be making, essentially buying prospects for the cost of Cruz’s contract.
The starting rotation was the calling card of the 2019 World Series championship squad, but it has fallen hard since. The ace, Max Scherzer, was dealt last July. Stephen Strasburg has thrown under 30 total innings since the start of the 2020 season. Patrick Corbin has been healthy, but ineffective, posting a 5.50 ERA across 237.1 innings over the same two seasons. Josiah Gray, acquired in the Turner/Scherzer deal, will continue to make starts and hope to improve upon his debut in 2021 (5.48 ERA in 70.2 innings, almost entirely after the trade). Anibal Sanchez was added this winter as a depth option.
The bullpen is underwhelming but does have a few names that may prove to be sought-after commodities come the trade deadline. This includes Will Harris and Tanner Rainey. Harris has been a high-quality bullpen arm for years, but missed most of 2021, making just 8 appearances. Rainey had been dominant out of the pen in 2019 and 2020, but struggled with his location in 2021, walking 25 batters in just 31.2 innings. If either of them can return to form, they will be valuable trade chips. The Nationals are hoping for a similar story for their offseason acquisitions Steve Cishek and Sean Doolittle.
Win Projection: 63-99 (65-97 in 2021)
After a miserable 2021, there is little to believe the Nationals will improve in 2022. Without the four months of Scherzer and Trea Turner, they figure to be a few games worse by my estimate. The off-season additions have been good ones for a club in this state, but they won’t end up helping them win too many more games, and many of them will likely be shipped out in late July. The real excitement for Washington fans won’t come in the form of meaningful wins and losses or scoreboard watching, but in their young talent hopefully taking the next step forward (and watching Juan Soto wage war on the record books). Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, Carter Kieboom, and Victor Robles have all provided reason enough to be excited about their future career, and any one of them could take the next step forward in 2022.
Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.