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Inbox: What's the Nats' biggest need for '21?

Beat reporter Jessica Camerato answers fans' questions
@jessicacamerato
October 18, 2020

It’s time for the first Nationals Inbox of the offseason. With so many key players entering free agency this winter, the team will be busy constructing its 2021 roster over the coming months. Keeping this look at which positions will need to be filled in mind, let’s jump into some

It’s time for the first Nationals Inbox of the offseason. With so many key players entering free agency this winter, the team will be busy constructing its 2021 roster over the coming months. Keeping this look at which positions will need to be filled in mind, let’s jump into some of the pressing questions received on Twitter.

What do you think is the biggest need for next season? There are a lot of holes to fill.
-- @aNatsFan, via Twitter

The construction of the Nationals’ starting pitching rotation will be an offseason decision to watch. The biggest key is the return of Stephen Strasburg, who threw only five innings this year before undergoing season-ending surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis in his right pitching hand. The Nats expect him to make a complete recovery and be healthy for next season.

That still leaves a question mark for the Nos. 4 and 5 starter roles, filled this season by Aníbal Sánchez and Austin Voth. The Nats have a team option on 15-year veteran Sánchez, who went 4-5 with a 6.62 ERA in 2020. After Joe Ross elected not to play this year, Voth beat out Erick Fedde for the fifth spot. Voth went 2-5 with a 6.34 ERA, and he didn't earn his first win of the season until his second-to-last start. Ross still could be a candidate to earn a starting job when he returns to the team.

Are they possibly going after J.T. Realmuto in free agency?
-- @talbert_jazz, via Twitter

The Nationals will have to address their catching situation with Kurt Suzuki entering free agency this offseason, and Realmuto is one of the top-rated players hitting the market -- at any position. A year after winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards, Realmuto had a slash line of .266/.349/.491 with 11 homers, 32 RBIs and 33 runs in 47 games this season with the Phillies.

Realmuto is primed to draw serious attention around the league, so it’s a question of mutual interest: Where does the 29-year-old want to be for the next chapter of his career, and how much would the Nationals want to invest in a heavy-hitting catcher? Last year, Yasmani Grandal garnered a four-year, $73 million contract from the White Sox. Looking at the Nats’ coverage behind the plate, Yan Gomes is under contract for 2021, and Tres Barrera, their No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was reinstated this month. A return for Suzuki is a possibility, too.

What’s known is Realmuto already has a supporter on the Nationals: Juan Soto. The left fielder frequently chatted with Realmuto during his at-bats this season.

“He’s one of my favorites, because he’s always happy,” Soto said in September. “He just tries to do his job behind there. Some catchers, they’re always mad, they always try to get you. That’s why I don’t talk with everybody, I just try to be nice with them. But Realmuto, he’s a really nice guy.”

Which bats are we likely to pursue, and which can we afford?
-- @dmoniz611, via Twitter

In addition to specific players, there were lots of big-picture questions about top free-agent options. MLB.com's David Adler recently put together a list of the most notable players entering the market this winter, including a look ahead to the 2023-24 offseason. Check this out for a range of upcoming free agents, from heavy-hitters who are poised to garner big contracts, like DJ LeMahieu, to veterans like Yoenis Céspedes and Michael Brantley.

It was a small sample size, but Andrew Stevenson finally having a chance at consistency seemed to help him thrive. Do you think they will spend much on the outfield, or go more for an infielder or relief pitcher?
-- @JustinWDC, via Twitter

Andrew Stevenson took a late-season opportunity and ran with it. After being recalled from the alternate training site on Sept. 18, he hit in each of his 12 games the rest of the way. The lefty swinger had a .417/.488/.833 slash line with 15 hits, two home runs, seven doubles, 12 RBIs, 10 runs a 1.321 OPS in 36 at-bats during that streak.

The Nats drafted Stevenson in 2015, and they have seen his development on the Major League level over the past four years. Stevenson, who can play all three outfield positions, got extended playing time in left late this season, when Washington wanted to get a look at Soto in right -- a possible defensive change for next year, which could create an opening for an offseason acquisition.

There are opportunities for Stevenson, 26, to move up in the Nationals’ outfield depth chart in 2021. Washington has a team option on right fielder Adam Eaton, and backup outfielder Michael A. Taylor elected for free agency Thursday after clearing outright waivers.

In addition to specializing against right-handed pitching, manager Dave Martinez has tasked Stevenson with improving his defense and the situational aspects of the game, including bunting and stealing bases. As for what Stevenson’s September performance could mean for next year?

“Hopefully he can build off of this and run with it," said Martinez. "Then we get him back next year, and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.