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Inbox: Soto, Turner contracts; Rainey's role

Beat reporter Jessica Camerato answers fan questions
@jessicacamerato
January 7, 2021

As the Nationals enter 2021, there still are questions to be answered, from upcoming contract situations to filling out the roster to potential breakout candidates. Many of these were posed for the Inbox, and this week we take a look at some of the most-frequently asked topics. Latest on Soto

As the Nationals enter 2021, there still are questions to be answered, from upcoming contract situations to filling out the roster to potential breakout candidates. Many of these were posed for the Inbox, and this week we take a look at some of the most-frequently asked topics.

Latest on Soto and Turner’s contracts
Last month, the Nationals tendered contracts to 2020 MVP Award vote-getters Juan Soto and Trea Turner. The deadline for arbitration exchange is coming up on Friday, Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. ET.

Soto, 22, is estimated to earn about $5 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, per the Cot's Baseball Contracts site. Turner, 27, is estimated to earn about $11 million for his third-year arbitration salary. (Turner and the Nats previously avoided arbitration last year when they reached a one-year deal worth $7.45 million for the ‘20 season.)

Free agent corner outfield possibilities
The Nationals have the flexibility to plug Soto into right or left field, widening their pool of options if they fill their starting outfield vacancy through free agency. Washington is looking for bats to bolster its lineup, and one player who could fit that need is Michael Brantley. The 33-year-old lefty has hit .299 or better in four consecutive seasons.

Additionally, free agents who are one season removed from 30-plus home run performances include Kyle Schwarber, (38 homers), Joc Pederson (36 homers) and Eddie Rosario (32 homers).

And what about Silver Slugger Marcell Ozuna, who batted .338 with a National League-leading 18 home runs? His name has been mentioned in several Inbox questions. The 30-year-old is likely to garner a significant multi-year contract, which might not be a fit for the Nationals’ plans.

Rainey and relievers in 2021
One question that has been asked for the Inbox since lefty Sean Doolittle entered free agency is if the Nationals will pursue another closer candidate. The Nats entered last season with a trio of options in Doolittle, Will Harris and Daniel Hudson -- and they could do the same in 2021 thanks to the emergence of Tanner Rainey.

Rainey, 28, had a breakout 2020 season. He posted a 2.66 ERA, 0.738 WHIP and 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 20 appearances, while leading the Nationals' relievers in opponents' batting average (.119) and on-base percentage (.213). Rainey made so much progress in his third Major League season, manager Dave Martinez said in September, “We’re looking at potentially our future closer.”

As Rainey continues to develop in a late-inning role, the Nationals are looking for veterans Harris and Hudson to channel their 2019 performances. After posting a 1.44 ERA following a trade to the Nats in July of ‘19 and closing out the Game 7 of the World Series, Hudson went 3-2 with a 6.10 ERA and 10 saves (15 save opportunities) in 20 2/3 innings last season. Harris, who led American League relievers with a 1.50 ERA in ‘19, was 0-1 with a 3.06 ERA and one save (four save opportunities) across 17 2/3 frames as he battled a groin injury in ‘20.

Returning players looking for standout seasons
Just as Rainey did in 2020, there are returning players who could be poised for a breakout ‘21 campaign with the Nationals.

Right-hander Joe Ross is eyeing a spot in the starting rotation, which has two vacancies. He was a top candidate for the No. 5 spot before electing not to play last season, and Martinez said last month, “I want Joe to be in the rotation.”

Andrew Stevenson closed the 2020 season batting .417 on a 12-game hitting streak. The lefty defended all three outfield positions across 14 games and did not commit an error.

Righty reliever Kyle McGowin turned heads last year after waiting until Sept. 5 to make his season debut. He held opponents scoreless in his first six relief appearances.

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