Three years ago, the Washington Nationals were a Wild Card team who made a miracle run to a World Series win over the mighty Astros.
Three years later, Washington is about as close to the bottom as they can get. The team lost 107 games in 2022 and entered full fire sale mode, trading beloved star outfielder Juan Soto to the Padres.
2023 isn’t expected to be any kinder to the Nationals. They’re projected to lose over 100 games again and the roster doesn’t inspire much confidence. A sale seems imminent, but the Lerner Family is taking its time finding a buyer.
All in all, it will be a mostly forgettable season in DC as the Nats figure out their next generation of talent. Not even an August visit to Yankee Stadium is exciting, nor are late July and early September series with the rival Mets. The best Washington can hope for is spoiling some of those Mets games, and maybe not finish with 100 losses.
Greatest Addition: Dominic Smith. He had no clear path to playing time with the Mets and now gets his chance on a one-year deal in Washington. Smith played in just 58 MLB games last year and hit just .194 with no home runs. He did, however, bat .284 with ten home runs and a .839 OPS.
It also helps Washington that Smith is still just 27 years old and with plenty of upside. He hit .316 with a .993 OPS in the abbreviated 2020 season. The Nationals plan to use him as their starting first baseman. With no pressure to win, Smith could finally break out in a full season.
Greatest Loss: Nelson Cruz. It doesn’t matter that he spent just one year in Washington and turned in the worst full season of his career. The veteran Cruz is still the consummate professional and great to have in any clubhouse.
Cruz is also a natural competitor who’s far from ready to give up baseball. He’s 42 and playing on a simple one-year, $1 million deal with the Padres. He’s probably be San Diego’s starting DH against lefties.
But in the meantime, the rebuilding Nationals will miss Cruz and his veteran voice amongst the youth.
Greatest Strength: CJ Abrams. Franchise shortstops are the new name of the game and he should be Washington’s during this next development phase. Abrams came over from the Padres in the Soto trade and hit .258 in 44 games.
The Nationals now hope Abrams’ power improves. He hit .331 with a .896 OPS in the minors for his career, but with only 12 home runs in three seasons. He’s still just 22 years old and is a prime breakout candidate for 2023, even if it’s with lowly Washington.
Greatest Weakness: We’re going to go with general dysfunction. Washington is for sale, yet ownership seems to be dragging out the process. At the same time, the Nationals are stuck living in the past. On top of rebuilding, they’re trying to re-capture both Bryce Harper’s swagger and the 2019 glory.
Is the team for sale or not? Will GM Mike Rizzo rebuild this team again or is he just going through the motions? The Nationals need excitement beyond Abrams and pitcher MacKenzie Gore. Unfortunately, it’s unclear what management’s plan is to address it.
Just how bad will the Nationals be in 2023? With luck, hopefully not so bad that they lose 107 games again. Washington certainly isn’t a playoff team this year and will only avoid last place if the Marlins are somehow worse.
The next steps for the Nationals could thus be simply waiting things out. Prospects James Wood, Elijah Green, and Brady House are all a few years away from their MLB debuts. Top pitching prospect Cade Cavalli’s debut just got delayed a year by Tommy John surgery. While they develop, Abrams and pitcher MacKenzie Gore will be the fans’ and franchise’s look into the future.
Sadly for Washington, Abrams and Gore are just two men and not enough to carry a rebuilding franchise. Unless they spoil things for the Mets like the Cubs did last season, the Nationals won’t play memorable baseball in 2023.
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