Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Nationals News

How Nats' Opening Day roster is shaping up

@zachsilver
January 21, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are a few months removed from their first World Series title, and even despite the “really good hangover,” as Max Scherzer put it, they have been at the forefront of plenty of offseason news. Defending the crown doesn’t come easy, after all. On top of new

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are a few months removed from their first World Series title, and even despite the “really good hangover,” as Max Scherzer put it, they have been at the forefront of plenty of offseason news. Defending the crown doesn’t come easy, after all.

On top of new faces like Will Harris, Starlin Castro and Eric Thames joining the squad, Daniel Hudson, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, Yan Gomes and Stephen Strasburg have all agreed to return as well. But there are still several holes that need plugging. It’s getting closer to the moment when general manager Mike Rizzo's 40-man roster will more or less reflect the players he intends to trot out onto the field to try to defend a title.

Here’s where the roster stands now -- and how it might look come Opening Day on March 26 at Citi Field. Importantly, 2020 marks the first season in which teams can carry 26 players (a maximum of 13 pitchers) on their active roster throughout the year:

Catcher
Locks: Kurt Suzuki, Gomes
Possibilities: None

Any speculation that the Nats would shake up their duo behind the plate in 2020 was quickly dashed when Gomes re-signed on a two-year deal at the beginning of December. He and Suzuki -- who has one year left on a two-year deal he signed before ’19 -- are most likely looking at a similar setup in ’20: platooning when appropriate, matching up with the more appropriate starters -- Scherzer for Suzuki, Patrick Corbin for Gomes -- and trying to put together more complete seasons after Washington received middle-of-the-pack bWAR from its catchers in ’19.

First base
Locks: Thames, Kendrick
Possibilities:
Ryan Zimmerman

The first-base question got a lot clearer when the Nationals agreed with Thames on a one-year deal that includes a mutual option for 2020. The left-handed hitter can provide some power in the middle of the lineup to go along with Juan Soto. His addition also sets up a good opportunity for Zimmerman to return as Thames' platoon-mate, and Rizzo has said he’s keeping in touch with the career National, who himself said his future is down to a return to D.C. or retirement. Kendrick -- and potentially Cabrera -- could take any fill-in reps, too.

Second base
Locks: Kendrick, Castro
Possibilities: Cabrera,
Carter Kieboom

Kendrick and Castro are set to rotate as Trea Turner's double-play partner, with Cabrera mixed in as well. Kieboom played primarily shortstop and second base in the Minors in 2019, but it appears his likeliest path to the Opening Day roster is at the hot corner. This is all fluid, depending on how the club addresses its Zimmerman-sized hole at first base, as Kendrick may need to play that position, too.

Shortstop
Lock: Turner
Possibilities: None

Aside from starting pitching, this is the closest thing to a sure thing. Turner will turn 27 during the 2020 season, and he seems to have this position locked up -- at the very least -- until he can become a free agent ahead of the ’23 season.

Third base
Lock: Cabrera
Possibilities: Kieboom, Castro, Kendrick, trade

Anthony Rendon went to the Angels and Josh Donaldson chose Minnesota, so the Nationals' most consistent position in recent memory will see a big change in 2020. All signs indicate that Kieboom, the club's top prospect, will have every chance to win the job at Spring Training. Otherwise, the recently signed Cabrera can fill in, as well as Castro and Kendrick in a pinch. Or perhaps Rizzo could get creative on the trade market.

Outfield
Locks: Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton
Possibilities: Michael A. Taylor, Andrew Stevenson

With Eaton -- whose option was picked up after the World Series -- heading into his second full season since an ACL tear, Robles gaining experience at the plate and Soto being Soto, there’s a lot to like about the Nats’ outfield heading into 2020. The only looming question is if they decide to keep or trade Taylor, with the less-expensive Stevenson also serving as a fourth option.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez
Possibilities: Joe Ross, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde

The rotation that led all of baseball with 14.7 bWAR in 2019 returns essentially untouched: Scherzer with two years left on his contract, Strasburg re-signed to a seven-year deal, Corbin with five years left and Sánchez with one year and a club option for ‘21. As of now, it appears the fifth spot will be decided among Ross, Voth or Fedde, with Voth seeming to have the inside track.

Relievers
Locks: Sean Doolittle, Harris, Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elias
Possibilities: Pretty much anyone

The Nationals seemed quiet on the bullpen front. Then Harris signed and Hudson returned, and now the question marks become a tad less overbearing. Sure, they need some upgrades, but like last season, those could come midseason. The bullpen may end up being decided among names currently on the 40-man roster. Some combination of Ross, Voth, and Fedde could provide a long-man option, and Kyle Finnegan and Austen Williams, along with some Minor League signings, will fight in Spring Training for a roster spot.

Zachary Silver is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Baltimore/Washington. Follow him on Twitter @zachsilver.