Every year, teams face a roster crunch at the end of Spring Training. Who do you bring with you as you head home, who do you DFA in order to make room for those players if they’re not currently on your 40-man roster? Mike Rizzo is no stranger to this, but this year, it seems like the Nats have more decisions than normal to make. In large part, that’s due to the fact that many of the guys on their 40-man roster don’t have any options remaining, which is especially true of the bullpen.
Guys like Tanner Rainey, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Patrick Murphy have to break camp with the team, or else they’ll need to be placed either on the IL or DFA’d. When you couple those four guys with Steve Cishek, Sean Doolittle and Will Harris (although he’ll start the season on the IL – more on that in a bit), you have six (and potentially seven if/when Harris is healthy) relievers that must be on the active roster in order to stay in the organization.
So where does that leave guys who have options remaining like Paolo Espino, Kyle Finnegan, Andres Machado, Josh Rogers and Mason Thompson? Well, they’ll likely break camp with the team, but in the long-term, that remains to be seen. Unfortunately, some of those guys might be better than Voth or Fedde, but they may find themselves in AAA strictly because of their option years.
The fact that rosters have expanded to 28 for the first month of the season helps tremendously, but with guys like Maikel Franco, Anibal Sanchez, Dee Strange-Gordon and Tyler Clippard not on the 40-man roster, there are also going to need to be spots opened up. Will Harris has made just one Spring Training appearance and told reporters that he’s experiencing “lingering issues” following last year’s surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Putting Harris on the 60-day IL would clear a roster spot for one of those three guys and that’s exactly what I’d do. Even if Harris doesn’t need a full 60 days to recover, this needs to be done out of necessity. Harris has pitched in 28 total games over his two full seasons in D.C. and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be pitching in too many more this season.
Assuming the Nats decide to put Harris back on the 60-day IL, that will clear one spot, presumably for Sanchez. With Stephen Strasburg beginning the season on the IL, the Nats will need somebody to step into the rotation and eat some innings. While I wouldn’t mind seeing Joan Adon be that guy, it seems more likely that it’ll be Sanchez. And before anybody asks, no, Cade Cavalli shouldn’t be that guy either. Not yet.
The Nats will have to add Franco to the roster as well with Carter Kieboom starting the season on the IL. It looks like because of that, it’s going to be time to DFA or trade Seth Romero. Romero, who was the Nats 1st round pick in 2017, has been nothing but a disappointment both on and off the field. In January, he was arrested for a DWI charge in Texas. In 2018, the team sent him home from Spring Training for violating team policy. The Nats knew about Romero’s background when they drafted him, but still took a chance on him based on his talent alone. The problem is, between his off the field issues and mounting injuries, Romero has only thrown 83 total innings in the minors since being drafted in 2017. He’s averaged 13.4 K/9 over those 83 minor league innings, so it’s extremely likely someone else will take a chance on him. Despite his dominant K/9 numbers, it’s time for the Nats to move on.
With Luis Garcia starting the season in AAA, it also seems likely that the Nats are going to want Dee Strange-Gordon to break camp with the team. Having Strange-Gordon and Ehire Adrianza both on the roster will give Davey Martinez a lot of flexibility since both are able to play 2B, SS and OF. Adrianza even has some experience at 1B and 3B. The question becomes how they’ll be able to pull this off. I personally have no problem moving on from someone like Andrew Stevenson or Sam Clay, but I know Rizzo isn’t going to do that. It’s possible that Hunter Harvey, who was just claimed on waivers from the Giants, could be in DFA limbo again. The team could also opt to move on from someone like Gabe Klobosits, who has been dominant in the minors, but didn’t show all that well in his brief stint in the Majors last season.
The last guy that the Nats might have to find a spot for is Tyler Clippard. They’ll likely have some time to add Clippard to the roster since he just signed a minor league deal about a week ago and he’ll need some time to get his arm ready and face some hitters. Specifics of his deal haven’t been revealed, but he most likely has an opt-out in his contract by mid-late April, so the Nats will need to add him to the roster by then if they want to hang onto him. Injuries tend to pop up, so adding another player to the 60-day IL is a possibility to clear a spot. If not, it might come down to whether the Nats want to add Clippard to the roster, or hang onto someone like Austin Voth, who is controllable through the 2025 season.
With all of that in mind, and knowing that the Nats want to hang onto a couple of extra relievers early on, here’s how I see the Nats Opening Day roster shaping up:
Patrick Corbin (L)
Josh Rogers (L)
Sean Doolittle (L)
Sam Clay (L)
2B: Caesar Hernandez
RF: Juan Soto
DH: Nelson Cruz
1B: Josh Bell
C: Kiebert Ruiz
LF: Lane Thomas
3B: Maikel Franco
CF: Victor Robles
SS: Alcides Escobar
C: Tres Barrea
UT: Ehire Adrianza
UT: Dee Strange-Gordon
OF: Andrew Stevenson