It’s another edition of our weekly Nationals Q&A session with your Twitter Questions. This week, the picture becomes a little clearer as the Nationals continue to remain active in Free Agency. Just a few days after adding Dom Smith, the presumed Opening Day starter at First Base, the team also signed OF Corey Dickerson to a one year deal, another presumed starter. With two starting players added just 10 days into the new year, the 2023 Nationals lineup picture is almost done being painted. The questions now shift to the platoon and bench roles, but knowing this club, there will never be a shortage of Nationals questions!
“How big of a leap do you think CJ Abrams will take this year?” – @MarcHood04
This is arguably the most important question the Nationals need answered this year. He will only be entering his age 22 season, but this team needs CJ Abrams to establish himself. If you look at their farm system, the Nationals do not really have another option at Shortstop, at least right away. Brady House, the team’s top pick in 2021, is only 19 and will likely move to Third Base at some point due to his build. Armando Cruz is only 18 and like 5 to 6 years away from debuting. Then there is Jeter Downs, who was claimed by the Nationals in late December. The former top 50 prospect offers huge upside, but it is safe to say his former team, the Boston Red Sox, did him no favors in his development by rushing him. My hope is that Downs stays in AA/AAA all year long and the Nationals do not make the same mistake.
At the Major League level, we know Luis Garcia is not the answer at Shortstop. The team needs to leave him at Second Base so he can make that position his own. He can fill in at Shortstop every now and then, but he is not an everyday Shortstop. So again, the Nationals need CJ Abrams to be the answer.
Abrams hit .258/.276/.327 with a .603 OPS after being traded to Washington, which was honestly worse than I remembered. His OPS+ was also only 75, which is a good ways below league average. But keep in mind, he was only 21. Aaron Judge didn’t even make his debut until age 24. Not that Abrams will reach the level Judge has, but we just have to remember Abrams is very young and has much room to grow.
Baseball Reference has him projected to hit .253/.303/.367 with a .670 OPS, which would be a solid improvement basically across the board. They do only have him projected to get 351 Plate Appearances, which I’m not sure if it’s because they expect him to be in AAA for some of the season or what, as that would only be about 95 games or so.
I think with some stability now being in Washington for a full offseason, we’ll see Abrams really settle in. Call it the optimist in me, but I think we’ll see .260/.310/.390, so about a .700 OPS. If he raises his OPS by 100 points, I think we’ll all be more than happy.
“Think this means Meneses is moving to DH?” (after the Corey Dickerson signing) – @MarcHood04
I syphoned another one of Marc’s questions for this post, because it is one I think a lot of fans will be wondering themselves. Signing Corey Dickerson effectively means your starting outfield is Lane Thomas, Victor Robles and Corey Dickerson. Alex Call or Stone Garrett would be your 4th outfielder. Signing Dom Smith fills a need a first base, which he said he would be playing during his presser. So if the outfield is full and first base occupied, that really only leaves DH for Joey Meneses. But I don’t think that is a bad thing. NL teams are still new to the Designated Hitter, but they should view it as a position to be filled, not a revolving door. A lineup is immediately deepened when the DH is an offensive threat. While Joey Meneses isn’t great defensively, his bat does make this lineup better. The Nationals could do much worse at the position. He and Smith will likely platoon between DH and First Base.
“Why was Andres Machado DFA’d?” – @ Me
I had to ask this question myself, as Machado’s DFA came as a surprise to most. For a team that always seems to need bullpen help, it is a bit of a head scratcher to DFA one of your better relievers. Machado had a 3.34 ERA over 51 games last season, including finishing the year with 17 consecutive scoreless appearances. He had a 3.53 ERA in 40 appearances in 2021, so it seemed like he was quickly working his way to be a staple in the bullpen.
This team doesn’t have a ton of Starting Pitching depth, but with Paolo Espino right there to eat innings if you need him, and Erasmo Ramirez already being proven in that fireman, clean up role, I would have DFA’d Cory Abbott, who didn’t really show much last season. They must really love the upside of the former second round pick to keep him around.
I hope Machado somehow clears waivers and stays with the team, because this is the one move this offseason I can’t fully wrap my head around.