Between trades, free-agent signings and key players from the 2019 World Series championship team departing Washington, D.C., for new teams, the Nationals’ 2021 roster will look a lot different than it did at the end of last season.
While the Nats filled several key holes over the winter, questions remain to be answered before Opening Day on April 1. Here are predictions for the Opening Day roster, including positions we know and those that still need to be determined.
Catcher (2): Yan Gomes, Alex Avila
After platooning with Kurt Suzuki for the past two seasons, Gomes will share the role this year with the veteran Avila. Gomes was tasked this offseason with preparing to catch in the range of 100 games, an increase in playing time that he said he is excited about. Avila comes to the Nats with previous experience catching Max Scherzer while with the Tigers, Patrick Corbin while with the D-backs and Jon Lester while with the Cubs.
First base (2): Josh Bell, Ryan Zimmerman
After manning first base by committee last season, Howie Kendrick retired, Asdrúbal Cabrera signed with Arizona and Eric Thames is returning to Japan. The Nats traded a pair of pitching prospects to the Pirates on Christmas Eve to acquire Bell, who will be their starting first baseman. Then, they inked Zimmerman to a one-year deal for his 16th season in Washington. The right-handed-hitting Zimmerman complements the switch-hitting Bell in a backup role.
Second base (2): Starlin Castro, Luis García
Castro is back in action after breaking his right wrist last August and undergoing season-ending surgery. He gives the Nationals a veteran who can be utilized toward the top or middle of the lineup. It remains to be seen how Castro’s return will impact García, who made 35 starts at second last season as a 20-year-old rookie, as he continues his development as a Major Leaguer.
Third base (1): Carter Kieboom
The hot corner is a position to watch this season. The Nationals are giving Kieboom the opportunity to earn the starting job, and they don’t have a clear-cut backup like they did last season in Cabrera. The question is whether Kieboom will hurdle past the learning curve from last year, during which he spent time at the alternate training site. As the Nats assess the position, veteran utility man Josh Harrison has played 1,917 2/3 innings at third, while García and Jake Noll have experience there at the Minor League level.
Shortstop (1): Trea Turner
Shortstop is one of the Nats’ strongest positions thanks to the standout play of Turner. Last season, Turner led the Majors with 78 hits and led all shortstops in batting average (.335), on-base percentage (.394), slugging percentage (.588), OPS (.982) and extra-base hits (31). He finished seventh in National League MVP Award voting.
Outfield (4): Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Kyle Schwarber, Andrew Stevenson
The starting outfield is locked in with Robles in center, Soto shifting to right and free-agent addition Schwarber playing left. There will be a Spring Training competition for the fourth outfielder role, which had been filled by Michael A. Taylor, who signed with the Royals in free agency this winter. Stevenson ended last season on a 12-game hitting streak, Gerardo Parra is back as a non-roster invitee after a year in Japan, Yadiel Hernandez took advantage of his playing time as a 32-year-old rookie and non-roster invitee Yasmany Tomás is looking to earn a spot on a big league roster.
Utility (1): Josh Harrison
Harrison made a fast impression on the Nats in his first season with the club, and they signed him to a one-year contract this past October. He has played every position over his career, except for catcher, and he provides the Nationals with veteran experience in the infield and outfield.
Starting pitchers (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross
Strasburg is looking healthy in Spring Training after season-ending carpal tunnel surgery limited him to five innings in 2020. This winter, the Nationals signed three-time World Series champion Lester to add a second lefty alongside Corbin. The competition for the fifth starting spot will pan out in West Palm Beach, Fla. Ross was the top candidate last season before he decided not to play, but the Nationals are going to be mindful of his health because he didn’t pitch in ‘20. Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Rogelio Armenteros will also be considered for the role.
Relievers (8): Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth
Predicting the relievers is intriguing on several levels. For one, there is a chance top free-agent acquisition Hand could be the only southpaw in the bullpen on Opening Day. The Nats’ other left-handed options on their 40-man roster are Sam Clay and prospects Seth Romero and Ben Braymer. To that note, Hand -- who led MLB with 16 saves last season for Cleveland -- could be named the closer, or Martinez could take a closer-by-committee approach, like he has done in the past, with Hand, Hudson and Harris. Then, there’s the impact of the fifth-starter decision. While Fedde is a candidate for a starting job, he could also be left off the 26-man roster because he still has a Minor League option.