The Washington Nationals have had a productive offseason by recent standards. So far this winter, they have added at least four players who will contribute significant innings to the big league roster and re-signed an additional player for their bullpen. By typical MLB standards, that is a fairly active offseason, especially for a team not necessarily projected to compete. However, they might not be finished yet, as the latest Nationals rumors are that the team is still looking at Outfield options as well as the Starting Pitching market.
The first rumor, like the Trey Mancini rumor from last week, does not seem to come from a credible source. However, it does link the Nationals to an Outfielder I have mentioned would make a lot of sense for the team, so we will play along.
The Nationals are reportedly in talks with Free Agent Outfielder David Peralta, per an anonymous account on Twitter named MLB Scoops. If this does turn out to be true, and I hope it does, then Peralta would be the best addition the Nationals make (so far) this offseason. While he did have a down year last season, especially after his trade to Tampa, Peralta offers the most upside of any Nationals’ Free Agent signing and subsequently has the most trade value. The Nationals need to continue adding players with value so they have movable assets come midseason. The Nats have been the catalyst of the trade deadline the past two MLB seasons, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see contenders come the Nationals way yet again should they have attractive pieces to trade.
As we wrote earlier this winter, David Peralta doesn’t necessarily hit for power, but does make up for it with his solid contact, good OBP, and above-average defense in the outfield. In my opinion, the Nationals outfield situation is messy and adding likely starters to the fold is in the team’s best interest. Victor Robles will start in CF, but his offensive production has been declining every season, and it is not like he had much of a cushion to begin with. Lane Thomas, while streaky last season, is better suited for a 4th outfielder role. Joey Meneses, a definite starter for this club, belongs at First Base or DH and really shouldn’t see much time in the outfield in an ideal season. And while I am high on Stone Garrett’s potential, he is very unproven. Sign Peralta, and that picture becomes much more clear.
The second rumor is from a much more well-known source, as former Nationals’ General Manager and current reporter for the Athletic Jim Bowden is reporting the Nationals are still keeping tabs on the Starting Pitching market.
This would be a major, major development to the Nationals season as like most people, I assumed the Nationals were done adding Starting Pitching after the signing of Trevor Williams. That being said, you can never have too many Starting Pitchers and teams are always in need of starting pitching at the trade deadline, so I think this would be a very wise move for Mike Rizzo and company to make.
Now that would present multiple questions to be answered, the first of which is: who?
Well the top arms have all signed, as expected when you’re in early January, but there are still plenty of serviceable arms available, like Johnny Cueto, Zach Greinke, Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer and more. But the arm I would like them to sign is Michael Wacha.
While Corey Kluber was my top choice for a Free Agent arm to add to DC, Michael Wacha was actually my runner-up, as I wrote back in late November. And now that Spring Training is around the corner and we are just a few weeks away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting, Michael Wacha seems like a very viable option for the Nationals.
Wacha has gone through some ups and downs in his career. After starting off hot for the St. Louis Cardinals, he battled multiple injuries and really struggled with the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Mets. He bounced back thought, as in 2022 with the Boston Red Sox, Wacha went 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 23 starts. He only pitched in 127 innings for Boston, which isn’t ideal, but if he stays healthy in the first half of the season, you can trade him and then you wouldn’t have to worry about any potential trips to the IL or his injury history.
The other ramification is: if the Nationals do sign another starting pitcher, who gets bumped from the rotation?
I know people want to see Patrick Corbin move to the bullpen, mainly so they see less of Patrick Corbin, but he’s being paid too much to not be a starter. You hope he rebounds a bit to have some trade value, take a very low prospect in return just to get out from some of his contract. But who knows if that happens.
Trevor Williams said when he signed that the team wanted him to be a Starting Pitcher, despite the fact that he’s had success the past two seasons as a reliever, so I don’t think you’d want to go back on your word to one of your recent Free Agent signings. That would be bad for business and make it difficult to sign Free Agents in the future.
That leaves Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore or Cade Cavalli. Gray spent all of 2022 up with the Nationals, and while there is room to improve, I don’t see him being sent back down to AAA. Gore was one of the highlights in the return for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, and was already up with the Padres before he was traded, so I don’t think the Nationals would send him down either. He was rehabbing from an elbow injury, so you would hope he didn’t experience any setbacks. Although, GM Mike Rizzo did say at the time of the trade that both Gore and the team were not concerned with the elbow injury long-term and that it was just inflammation. Since the Nationals were long since out of playoff contention, the opted to take it slow with Gore, who didn’t make an appearance for the Nationals before the season was over.
And then there is Cade Cavalli. The top pitching prospect for the Nationals made his MLB debut last season, but only lasted 4.1 innings giving up 7 runs on 6 hits with 6 strikeouts in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds. That would end up being Cavalli’s only start or appearance with the Nationals, as thereafter he was diagnosed with Shoulder inflammation. He was shut down and tried to return, but the Nationals opted to end his season early like they did with Gore.
The Nationals could open the year with Cavalli in AAA and let him ease his way back into pitching, which I like the idea of a lot. I was fine with Cavalli joining the opening day rotation, but I have criticized this team multiple times over the years with their handling of prospects, so if they actually take it slow with Cavalli and do not rush him, I can’t be anything other than content with that decision. He can stay in AAA for the first half of 2023 and join the Nationals if they do indeed sign someone like Michael Wacha, who they could potentially trade at the deadline.
However they handle the rest of the offseason, I do hope they’re not finished just yet. Adding more proven pieces to a young team, provided they’re not 42 years old and can still produce, makes all the sense in the world.