From pitchers to position players, the Nationals made moves this offseason to bolster their roster to better contend in a highly-competitive National League East. Once they arrived in West Palm Beach, Fla., they continued exploring their options and tried new lineup changes during Spring Training. With Opening Day approaching on Thursday, the Nats are firming up their 2021 roster.
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, the Nats traded a pair of pitching prospects to the Pirates on Christmas Eve to acquire Bell as 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, and both have been hitting for power in Spring Training.
Second base (1): Josh Harrison
The Nationals shifted Starlin Castro from second to third (see below), so Harrison will start the majority of the games at second base. Harrison has played the majority of his games (443) at second base over his 10-year career.
Third base (1): Starlin Castro
The hot corner starting job was Carter Kieboom’s to earn this spring, but the Nats optioned him to Triple-A Fredricksburg to continue getting reps and developing. Castro will move to third, where he played 45 games for the Marlins in 2019.
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 Nationals added Schwarber in free agency and moved Soto to right, where he played in the Minor Leagues. When it came to the fourth outfielder spot, the Nats were looking for a player who could defend all three positions, and a left-handed bat was a plus. Stevenson checked those boxes, and he came into camp with the momentum of ending last season on a 12-game hitting streak.
Utility (2): Jordy Mercer, Hernán Pérez
The two veterans were both added to the Major League roster after strong spring performances. The pair's versatility includes the ability to play second or third (see above), and Pérez as an option for an emergency catcher. Martinez lauded their “professional at-bats.”
Starting pitchers (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross
The Nationals returned their top three starters from last season, including a healthy Strasburg, who was limited to just five games because of carpal tunnel neuritis. For a veteran boost they added three-time World Series champion Jon Lester. Joe Ross was the top candidate for the fifth starter spot in 2020, before he elected not to play, and he earned the job this year. Martinez will be mindful of the limited innings thrown by Strasburg and Ross last season, and he could explore an opener early on to help with the workload.
Relievers (8): Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth, Luis Avilán
The Nationals’ bullpen is built for depth. Fedde and Voth, who contended for the fifth starting spot, can throw multiple innings. Avilán and Suero also can throw one-plus frames. The Nats will look to Brad Hand as the closer and call on Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey for late innings. (Harris is seeking further medical attention after experiencing numbness in his right fingers; a venogram ruled out a blood clot.) Martinez said on Sunday, “We're confident with the guys that we're going to keep [that] they can get the job done."