Starting and relief pitching. Bench bats. Third base. Centerfield. With a plethora of holes, what exactly are the Nat’s biggest off-season needs?
After almost a decade of being a serious World Series contender, that window for Washington has sadly been shut. Now the future is in the farm system and team President Mike Rizzo has plenty of difficult questions to answer regarding the off-season. Is now the time to splurge on a bat in free agency? How far away are the team’s top pitching prospects? Should the Nationals hold off on going all-in?
With a stacked free-agency class approaching, Rizzo will need to find his answers and fast. In the midst of a rebuild, the team has multiple holes that they will need to address, but what exactly should they start?
Off-season Need #3: Add A Backend Starter
Gone are the days of the Nationals boasting one of the best starting rotations in baseball. What was once the driving force for the team has become a liability. For the second straight year, Stephen Strasburg underwent season-ending surgery, this time to alleviate neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Since inking his $245 million deal after the 2019 World Series ended, he has thrown a total of 26.2 innings.
Patrick Corbin was arguably the worst starting pitcher in 2021, ranking last in all of baseball in ERA (5.82), FIP (5.41), and losses (16). Erick Fedde posted a 5.47 ERA and has yet to take the next step. Jon Lester was signed in an attempt to add depth and veteran leadership, but instead, he posted a 5.02 ERA in 75 1/3 innings. Joe Ross underwent Tommy John for the second time in his career. Paolo Espino and Josh Rogers both spent time in the rotation last year and will be battling it out for a roster spot.
Washington’s rotation finished last year 12th in LOB% (73.7%), 17th in wins (42), 20th in ERA (4.64), 24th in fWAR (6.6), and25th in FIP (4.88). With over $58 million invested in Strasburg and Corbin alone for 2022, the rotation needs to vastly improve.
Instead of splurging on an arm, Washington should set their eyes on adding an arm or two on one-year deals. Josiah Gray, Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge, Cole Henry, and Andry Lara are seen as the future of the rotation, but only Gray has made it to the majors. The other four are all at least 1-2 years away.
In the meantime, Washington should set their eyes on signing Jon Gray to a prove-it deal. Drafted number three overall by the Rockies back in 2013, the righty has yet to live up to his draft billing. That is partly due to playing his home games at Coors Field for his entire career. In his seven seasons with the Rockies, Gray went 53-49, with a 4.59 ERA, 849 strikeouts, and a 3.91 FIP. Nats Park will be more accommodating to Gray who is more of a groundball pitcher (46.7% career ground ball rate).
Other backend options include Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Tyler Anderson, Dylan Bundy, and Alex Cobb.