While the 2021 postseason is in full swing, most of us Nationals fans have turned our attention towards the offseason. Today, we take over the role of Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and take our first stab at building out the 2022 Nats.
Let us know what you think of the team we built in the comments section.
Re-signing our own
After the Nationals re-signed shortstop Alcides Escobar on a one-year deal, they are left with just six players set to hit the open market in early November. Those six are…
1B Ryan Zimmerman
C Alex Avila
OF Gerardo Parra
IF Jordy Mercer
RP Luis Avilan
SP Sean Nolin
Of this group, we can first eliminate Alex Avila, who announced his retirement from baseball at the end of the 2021 season. Ryan Zimmerman is yet to announce his official decision, and with the DH coming to the NL it would make some sense for him to return in 2022, but his send-off in the final regular-season game against the Red Sox made it seem like a good bet that he will be calling it quits. With Zim and Avila out of the picture, there isn’t really any need to bring back any of the other five players on this list. We’ll let all of the group hit the open market and set our sights on some higher-caliber players in free agency.
After taking a look at our own free agents, we’ll move towards taking care of arbitration-eligible players on the roster. Below are the Nationals arbitration projections from MLB Trade Rumors.
- Josh Bell – $10.0MM
- Joe Ross – $3.0MM
- Juan Soto – $16.2MM
- Erick Fedde – $1.9MM
- Wander Suero – $900K
- Victor Robles – $1.7MM
- Ryne Harper – $800K
- Austin Voth – $1.0MM
- Tanner Rainey – $800K
- Andrew Stevenson – $900K
Out of this group, Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Victor Robles and Tanner Rainey are all locks to return. Even though he is dealing with an injury, we’ll go ahead and bring Joe Ross back at $3.0MM. We’ll also bring back Austin Voth, Ryne Harper and Andrew Stevenson at $1.0MM, $800k and $900k respectively. After non-tendering Erick Fedde and Wander Suero our total cost on arbitration-eligible players will be right around $34.0MM. That will bring our active total payroll to $100.0MM, leaving us plenty of money to work with in free agency.
One more bit of business to take care of before free agency is renewing the contract of our pre-arb and minor league players on the roster. Spotrac estimates the Nationals 2022 minor league contracts at around $2.50MM for the season. As for our pre-arb Major-League players, we’ll estimate that to also be right around $2.50MM. Add on the Nationals player benefits of $15.50MM (Via Spotrac) and that brings us to a payroll total of $120.0MM entering free agency.
The final piece of the puzzle to tackle before exploring the open market is to add on the deferrals the Nationals have for this season. Washington has four players set to earn deferred money this upcoming year.
Max Scherzer – $15.0MM
Stephen Strasburg – $10.0MM
Rafael Soriano – $2.0MM
Brad Hand – $1.50MM
The $28.50MM of deferred salary does NOT count towards the Nationals 2022 payroll, so it does not affect the Competitive Balance Tax, but it still will play a role in dictating how much money the Nationals have to spend. If you add the deferred money to what Washington has on the payroll for the 2022 season, they sit at $148.0MM, $62.0MM below the estimated Competitive Balance Tax Threshold of $210.0MM for the upcoming season.
Now that we’ve taken care of our own, we can finally look at acquiring some players on the open market.
The first hole we’ll look to fill is finding a starting left fielder. Yes, Yadiel Hernandez played very well last season, but we can’t expect him to be a guy who starts every day. Hernandez would serve much better as a platoon LF/DH option, rather than being a full-time starter. Our ideal option to replace Hernandez would be former New York Mets outfielder, Michael Conforto. The 28-year-old had a down year in 2021, slashing just .232/.344/.729, but has a track record of being a quality offensive player. Conforto would be a perfect fit in D.C., but he’s ultimately just too expensive for our liking. After missing out on him, we turn our attention to a reunion with a former Nat.
Washington Signs OF/1B Kyle Schwarber for 3 years, $38MM ($12.5MM AAV)
Bringing Kyle Schwarber (28) back on a three-year deal seems like a good fit for both sides. We get a big-time power bat in our lineup with the versatility to hit anywhere in the order, and Schwarber gets a multi-year commitment at a nice salary. With the DH almost certainly coming to the National League in 2022, Schwarber can spend some time as a DH if we want to get Yadiel Hernandez some spot starts in LF. He also has experience playing first base now, so he potentially could spell Josh Bell if he needed a day off or if we want to have him DH one day.
Overall, I think this is a solid deal for both sides. Spotrac’s contract projection of 3 years, $38MM seems very close to what Schwarber will get this winter. The power-hitting lefty is also still just 28-year-old, so giving him a three-year deal wasn’t a big issue.
After bringing back Schwarber and getting a big bat in our lineup, we’ll turn our focus to the pitching market. As much as we’d love to sign a guy like Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray or Carlos Rodon, we just can’t afford to shell out another $100MM plus contract to a starting pitcher with Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin still on the books for the next four-to-five years. A cheaper, shorter-term deal seems like a much better option.
Washington Signs SP Steven Matz for 3 years, $22.50MM (7.50MM AAV)
Left-hander Steven Matz (31) might not be a sexy acquisition, but he’s a much better option than what we currently have on the roster. Matz had arguably the best season of his career in 2021. The left-hander started 29 games, going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 150.2 IP. Matz has now started at least 29 games in the last three full seasons, (2021,2019,2018), which is exactly what we need. This team isn’t going to be competitive unless Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are able to hold up as our top of the rotation starters. What we need out of our fourth or fifth starter is a guy who can go out there every fifth day and give us innings. Matz has proven he can be that guy and have some success while doing so.
As for the contract, a three-year commitment at $7.50MM a year isn’t bad for what teams are paying for starting pitching today. It’s not a move-the-needle type of acquisition, but it’s one that is much-needed if we want to get back into contention.
With a starting left fielder and number four starter locked up, our payroll sits at roughly $168.0MM for this season. Now, remember, the $28.50MM deferred salary does not count towards the CBT Tax. So our CBT Tax number at the current moment is right about $140.0MM. All in all, we have about $25-29MM or so to work with to fill the remaining holes on our roster.
Even with Schwarber back in the lineup, we still need more protection behind Juan Soto. Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, or Kris Bryant are our first options, but they all likely will get contracts too rich for our liking. Still, we need to get an All-Star-level impact bat, so it’s not going to be cheap.
Washington signs IF Marcus Semien for five years, $100MM ($20MM AAV)
Marcus Semien (31) made himself a ton of money this season. After signing a one-year, $18MM prove-it deal with the Blue Jays last offseason, the infielder had an MVP-caliber season. Semien slashed .265/.334/.538 with 45 home runs (fourth-most in baseball), 102 RBIs, a WRC+ of 131 and a WAR of 6.6. Semien was able to almost replicate his all-star-caliber 2019 season, proving himself worthy of a long-term deal.
From a Nationals standpoint, Semien makes sense in a number of ways. First, he can serve as your starting shortstop until young Brady House is ready, and second, Semien is about as good of a bat as you could want hitting behind or infront of Juan Soto in the lineup. The All-Star will make teams think twice about pitching around Soto, and if they continue to do so, he will make them pay.
While it’s certainly risky to give a 31-year-old a five-year deal, Semien’s proven track record at the plate makes it worth it. With plenty of questions about Carter Kieboom being the long-term solution at third base, Semien could have a future at the hot corner in the ladder years of his deal if Kieboom does not pan out. Even if he does, Semien could serve as a DH or even play some second base in his final years.
Overall this move was costly, and it might prevent us from re-signing a guy like Josh Bell next offseason, but it was a move that needed to be made. If we want to convince Juan Soto to stay in D.C. long-term, we have to field competitive teams in his final three years. With Semien in the fold, we’re not a World Series favorite, but we do have at least an outside chance at getting back to the postseason.
After adding Semien’s salary, we’re up to about $160MM in team payroll. This money does not factor in the deferred salaries of $28.50MM, so we really don’t have much left to work with. We’ll have to make a couple of cost-friendly deals to finish out the roster.
Final Minor Signings
Washington signs RHP Michael Lorenzen to a 2 year, $8MM deal
Lorenzen can serve as the long-man out of the pen, and has starting experience if needed.
Washington signs LHP Adam Morgan to a 1 year, $2MM deal
Morgan will serve as the lefty-specialist in the bullpen. Lefties hit just .125 against him in 2021.
Washington signs IF Charlie Culberson to a 1 year, $1MM Deal
A versatile bench piece to fill out our roster.
CF Lane Thomas
LF Kyle Schwarber
RF Juan Soto
SS Marcus Semien
1B Josh Bell
C Kiebert Ruiz
2B Luis Garcia
3B Carter Kieboom
DH Yadiel Hernandez
C Riley Adams
IF Alcides Escobar
IF Charlie Culberson
OF Victor Robles
OF Donovan Casey
1) Stephen Strasburg
3) Josiah Gray
5)Paolo Espino (Until Cade Cavalli is ready)
RHP Michael Lorenzen
LHP Adam Morgan
RHP Mason Thompson
RHP Patrick Murphy
RHP Kyle Finnegan
RHP Tanner Rainey
RHP Will Harris