The Washington Nationals should get three stars back on the roster when the second half begins. But who will end up falling victim amongst the roster cuts?
As we enter a week to honor baseball in the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals are just 11-22 since June 9. They desperately need to regroup over the All-Star break more than any other team in the majors.
Fortunately, the second wave of the Nats’ injured cavalry – including Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, and Ryan Zimmerman – appears to be on its way. All three could return to the big club as soon as Friday when the second half of the 2018 slate opens.
Strasburg completed two minor league rehab starts in the past week. Barring a setback, the right-hander should be with the team for the home series against Atlanta, and could even earn Friday’s start, which also happens to be his 30th birthday.
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Since Strasburg’s last start on June 8, the Nationals’ starters have posted an NL-worst 5.18 ERA, and a 6.43 ERA. The offense deservedly gets the bulk of the blame, but the rotation crashing from one of the best to one of the worst has expedited the team’s issues.
In the bullpen, Doolittle should also be back after hitting the DL with a toe injury. He’s eligible to return on Friday and was already back playing catch in cleats before Friday’s game.
Zimmerman however, hasn’t played since May 9 and he owns a lengthy injury history. All signs point to a Friday return, and if that’s the case, the Nationals will make room on their 25-man roster.
Zimmerman’s overall 2018 numbers aren’t all that impressive, but before he hit the DL, he was hitting .311/.364/.590 with eight extra-base hits in his final 16 games.
If all three stars to return to the lineup this weekend, the Nationals will have plenty of roster-juggling to accommodate their presences. Take a look at the 22 roster locks (including Zimmerman, Strasburg, and Doolittle):
"C: Matt Wieters, Spencer KieboomIF: Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy, Zimmerman, Matt Adams, Wilmer DifoOF: Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, Michael TaylorSP: Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Jeremy HellicksonRP: Doolittle, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Grace"
The bullpen seems straightforward. Suero has been very useful as a multi-inning option this year, but the Nats have shuttled him between Syracuse and Washington all summer long. That is unlikely to change once Doolittle returns.
The same goes for Gott, who will likely make way come Friday, as he was seemingly just called up to give the Nats an extra bullpen arm on Sunday.
Kelley and Miller both have their flaws, but expect both righties to hang on, for now, giving the Nats a seven-man pen for however long the injuries subside.
That leaves one final spot on the bench between Reynolds and Goodwin.
Reynolds is having a much better year at the dish, with his 140 OPS+ dwarfing Goodwin’s 77. But even amidst his 2018 struggles, Goodwin still has decent value as an asset.
He is under contract through 2022, and his poor campaign can be largely chalked up to injury and a lack of playing time. Prior to this season, Goodwin posted a career 104 OPS+ in 322 plate appearances and can credibly play all three outfield positions. He is also out of options, so the Nats can’t simply ship him to Syracuse.
On the flip side, Reynolds turns 35 in August and is in the middle of a career offensive campaign. This isn’t likely to hold up, and the Nats have already seen what kind of damage he can do when he is scuffling.
After tearing the cover off the ball in his first 12 games, Reynolds collapsed over his next 16 contests, collecting just 3 singles and 4 walks in 51 plate appearances. Reynolds, of course, bounced back around the Miami series, but that probably just means another slump is coming down the pike.
Roster-wise, keeping Reynolds around does not make sense for an NL club. Reynolds is merely a first-baseman at this point. And while he can make brief appearances at third, it’s untenable for the Nats to carry Zimmerman, Adams, Reynolds, and even Murphy as players who all profile as one-baggers defensively.
Zimmerman and Adams deserve regular playing time when healthy; Reynolds wouldn’t be able to scrounge up more than the occasional pinch-hit appearance on offense and would provide minimal value on defense.
Overall, holding onto Goodwin and releasing Reynolds gives Rizzo more options down the road without sacrificing much of anything from the major league roster right now.