The 2022 Season has officially come to an end as the Washington Nationals finished with an abysmal 55-102 record, finding themselves with the worst record in Major League Baseball. To add insult to injury, they are not even guaranteed the Number One pick in next year’s draft due to the newly implemented draft lottery. Instead of the 100% guaranteed first pick in year’s past, the Nationals now only have a 16.5% chance at picking first overall and a 71.4% chance at picking in the top 5. It would be quite the Nationals’ luck to finish with the worst record and not pick in the top 5, let alone top 3 or one overall as they should. Regardless, this team now turns its attention to the 2023 Washington Nationals.
There are a lot of questions going into next season for the Nationals, more than there has been heading into any season in recent memory. There are plenty of holes to fill in this roster, and plenty of opportunities to get better. It would be difficult to get worse.
This got me thinking, however, of what a 2023 Washington Nationals lineup would look like without any Free Agent signings or Trades. This obviously comes with some caveats, particularly the major injuries this club is facing. Players like Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Rainey are facing long roads to recovery, and while they would undoubtedly be on the team if they were healthy, it is unlikely they are ready for Opening Day. So for this exercise, we will use additional internal candidates to fill those spots.
Let’s take a look at your 2023 All Internal Washington Nationals:
C – Keibert Ruiz
1B – Luke Voit
2B – Luis Garcia
SS – CJ Abrams
3B – Ildemaro Vargas
LF – Lane Thomas
CF – Victor Robles
RF – Joey Meneses
DH – Yadiel Hernández
While not completely terrible, this lineup is still lacking pop. The face of this team, even if he is a relative newcomer, is CJ Abrams, but he’s not necessarily a power bat. He is, however, still very exciting. You hope that he, Ruiz and Garcia tap into more of their power potential, but I don’t think any of them are going to be perennial 25-30+ home run hitters. Luke Voit is usually good for 20-25 home runs at least, but he’s not necessarily a game changing bat in their lineup. And, of course, there’s Joey Meneses who was probably the best story of the ‘22 season, but is almost certainly due for regression. Not that Meneses won’t still have a good season, but it’s incredibly difficult to sustain his two month production over this past season over a full 162 game season.
Players like Victor Robles and Ildermaro Vargas will begin the year as starters, but will only remain such as long as there is no better option. Both are serviceable, but neither are foundational pillars. It is also worth noting that Nelson Cruz does have a mutual option for 2023 for 15 million, but considering he was not great in 2022 and will be 43 next season, and the fact that he was out of the lineup for the final three weeks of the season this year, I don’t see him returning.
BE – Riley Adams or Tres Barrera
BE – Carter Kieboom
BE – Josh Palacios or Alex Call
BE – Jake Alu or Lucius Fox
There are a few bench battles that I could see happening between Nats. The backup catcher job is arguably the most open, as what was once Riley Adams’ job to lose is now an open competition. Riley Adams really struggled with baserunners, so the Nats may opt for Barrera at least at first. Both Luke Voit and Joey Meneses can play first base as well, so there is not a glaring need for a backup first baseman either. For your fourth outfielder, it likely comes down to Josh Palacios or Alex Call. Both were claimed off waivers this season by the Nats, but it is likely Call’s job to lose as he performed slightly better in 2022.
For your backup infielder spots, it gets interesting. I think Carter Kieboom would likely be guaranteed a spot with the hopes he could eventually supplant Vargas as the everyday third baseman. That is certainly no guarantee, even before his Tommy John surgery. He can also, in theory, be your backup Shortstop as well, although it might not be pretty defensively for Kieboom. That leaves Jake Alu versus Lucius Fox. Alu was a late riser through the Nationals’ system and had a hot bat in AAA Rochester, but he only plays Third Base. Fox has more defensive versatility, but his bat is not nearly as good. Fox also had one of the defining moments of the Nationals’ season…
SP – Stephen Strasburg*
SP – Patrick Corbin
SP – Josiah Gray
SP – MacKenzie Gore
SP – Cade Cavalli
This is arguably the easiest, or least difficult, position group to predict for the 2023 Nationals. Your big question mark is obviously Stephen Strasburg. If he’s healthy, his contract and talent demands him to be a starting pitcher, if not your ace. If he is unable to begin the year healthy, which I unfortunately expect, I believe there would be a Spring Training competition between Jackson Tetreault, Joan Adon, Cory Abbott and Evan Lee, each of whom we saw at one point or another during the 2022 season. From there, it is pretty straightforward. Patrick Corbin’s contract forces you to try and let him figure it out, and this team’s future hinges upon the development and success of Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Cade Cavalli.
RP – Carl Edwards Jr.
RP – Paolo Espino
RP – Mason Thompson
RP – Andres Machado
RP – Kyle Finnegan
RP – Hunter Harvey
RP – Victor Arano
RP – Erick Fedde
Continuing from the Starting Pitching breakdown, Erick Fedde could likely fill in for Stephen Strasburg as well, but for me personally, I’ve seen enough of the Erick Fedde experiment. If he turns into another Austin Voth and succeeds elsewhere, so be it. But he certainly isn’t succeeding here, so I think they should move him to the bullpen where he can be a long reliever and may actually find some more success. Paolo Espino has done well as a long reliever and spot starter, so I see him continuing in that role as well.
Mason Thompson, Hunter Harvey and Victor Arano are likely the young relievers the Nationals would rely heavily on in high leverage situations, with Kyle Finnegan at least beginning the year as this team’s closer. Carl Edwards Jr. would be the veteran in the ‘pen, but he performed well this past year and in this exercise, would likely be the team’s most attractive trade chip should that production continue.
Erasmo Ramirez was voted the Nationals’ Pitcher of the Year, but he was on a Minor League Deal and is not currently under contract for 2023, so he is excluded from this exercise.
All in all, it looks very similar to what we saw post-trade deadline in 2022. For reference, the Nationals went 19-38 over that span, but you would expect the pitching to be better in 2023 with the additions of Gore and Cavalli to the rotation and hopeful improvements from Corbin and Gray. I do hope the Nationals have an active offseason and bring in competition for some of these roles, even if they’re only a one year deal, possibly trade chip type players. But with the looming sale of the franchise, likely to take place sometime in November and December, it may be similar to the past two offseasons where we haven’t seen the Nationals do much at all. Here’s to hoping for a better 2023.