WASHINGTON -- Following a roster overhaul at the 2021 Trade Deadline, the Nationals entered this winter planning for the first full season in this new chapter for the organization. Rather than constructing another veteran-heavy squad, the Nats are building around established young talents, like star right fielder Juan Soto, and key pieces of their future, such as right-hander Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz. Here’s a quick refresher to catch you up on what the club has already done this offseason and revisit the areas that still need to be addressed.
What deals have already gotten done?
The Nationals have already addressed infield needs this offseason. They re-signed versatile veteran Alcides Escobar to a one-year contract in early October to give them a proven option at second base, shortstop and third base. They also inked former AL Gold Glove Award winner César Hernández to a one-year deal in late November. He has experience playing the same infield positions as Escobar, as well as nearly 200 innings in center field. The Nats also have been active in signing former big league players to Minor League deals. Among those who will be vying for a return to the Majors are second baseman Dee Strange-Gordon, third baseman Maikel Franco and right fielder Rusney Castillo.
How many open spots are there on the 40-man roster?
There are two open spots on the 40-man roster. The Nationals claimed infielder Lucius Fox and southpaw Francisco Perez off waivers. To create space, the Nats non-tendered first baseman Mike Ford and right-handers Ryne Harper and Wander Suero.
Might there be a reunion with any of their remaining free agents?
Five Nationals players became free agents at the end of the 2021 season -- catcher Alex Avila, left-hander Luis Avilán, infielder Jordy Mercer, outfielder Gerardo Parra and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Avila and Zimmerman announced their retirements, Avilán signed a Minor League deal with Washington as he looks to return from Tommy John surgery and there is a possibility Mercer and/or Parra could re-sign to provide a veteran presence on a young team.
Who is returning from injury?
The Nationals’ pitching staff should receive a boost in 2022 with a trio of right-handers who were sidelined last season. Stephen Strasburg (thoracic outlet syndrome) underwent season-ending surgery in July after being hampered by injuries for the second year in a row. Additionally, Joe Ross (partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, right elbow) was shut down in August and Will Harris (thoracic outlet syndrome) made only eight relief appearances. Harris rejoined the Nationals last season while he progressed in his rehab, and the team expects Strasburg and Ross to be ready for Spring Training.
Taking all of the above into consideration, which areas of the roster need to be addressed before Opening Day?
Starting rotation: The only healthy locks for the 2022 starting rotation are Gray and Patrick Corbin, who is looking to have a bounceback season.
Closer: Tanner Rainey will vie for the role after an up-and-down 2021 performance.
Second base/shortstop/third base: These three infield positions are grouped together because there could be a domino effect in play. Possible scenarios include: 21-year-old Luis García could get the nod again at second, or the Nats could opt for the veteran Hernández and shift García to shortstop. If that’s the case, Escobar could slide into a backup role or move to third base if the Nationals do not see Carter Kieboom as their everyday starter at the hot corner.
Center field/left field: Last season, Lane Thomas emerged as the everyday starting center fielder and Victor Robles was optioned to Triple-A in late August. The Nationals have said Robles is a part of their future, but it remains to be seen whether he will be in their starting lineup. Andrew Stevenson and Yadiel Hernandez are among those in contention for the starting left-field job.
What changes were made within the organization?
Manager Dave Martinez made several new hires to his coaching staff: Darnell Coles (hitting coach), Eric Young Jr. (first-base coach), Gary DiSarcina (third-base coach) and Ricky Bones (bullpen coach). The Nationals also promoted De Jon Watson to director of player development, and they expanded their Minor League player development staff with 14 new roles and 20-plus new staff members.