For the Washington Nationals, the 2023 season was a mixed bag at best. They improved upon their lowly 55-107 record in the 2022 season, going 71-91 and playing somewhat competitive baseball at times. Some of the young players improved, most notably CJ Abrams, and some unexpected players, like Lane Thomas, established themselves as solid players as well. But with good always comes bad. The pitching staff as a whole was abysmal while the approach at the plate for hitters is straight out of the 1970s, and the defense was shaky at best. In order to improve in these areas in 2024, the Nationals need to rid the roster of three players who did not make much positive impact in 2023.
1. Ildemaro Vargas
A midseason pickup, Ildemaro Vargas was a nice surprise for the Nationals in 2022, posting a 1.3 fWAR and 97 wRC+ in just 53 games across the final two months of the season, not to mention 8 DRS at 3rd base. A utility man who can play almost every position, it made sense to bring him back in 2023 to see what he could do across a full season. As it turns out, Vargas provided essentially nothing to the team in 2023. In his limited playing time, he posted a 0.1 fWAR and an 81 wRC+. Spending most of his playing time at 3rd base, he had 4 DRS at the hot corner, which was tied for 7th most in the NL. Vargas is not a bad player, especially considering his defensive versatility and ability to put the ball in play (7% strikeout rate). The issue is not with Vargas himself, but rather with the manager, Davey Martinez. With Davey's tendency to play veterans or bench players over young guys with potential, Vargas will likely play too much and take playing time away from potential pieces for the future. Vargas signed a 1-year contract to avoid arbitration in late September, so he probably won't be going anywhere. But unless Davey uses him as a bench player, Vargas likely won't be a positive impact on the 2024 team.
2. Trevor Williams
There isn't much to say about Trevor Williams' 2023 season other than that it was awful. His surface level numbers were abysmal, posting a 5.55 ERA, a 1.60 WHIP, 111 Ks, and 34 HRs allowed across just 144.1 innings. Somehow, his underlying numbers are even worse, with a 5.98 FIP (worst in the MLB among pitchers with 140+ IP), 8.8% K-BB% (7th worst), a 10.2% Barrel Rate (9th worst), and 50 barrels (10th worst with all but two pitchers ahead of him throwing at least 170 innings). His 2022 stats with the Mets, 3.21 ERA in 89.2 IP across 30 appearances (9 starts), are very misleading; he was a good long relief pitcher (2.47 ERA across 51 IP) and in low leverage situations (2.21 ERA across 69 IP), but terrible as a starter. He was signed to a 2-year $13M deal last offseason with the idea that he would be a decent back-end starter who ate innings, but Mike Rizzo was (of course) the only GM who had that idea and gave him way too much money AND two guaranteed years. As anyone who has a basic understanding of analytics (not Mike Rizzo) could have seen coming, he was terrible and has no place on the team in 2024. He should be DFA'd and the Nationals should eat the contract, which would allow for more opportunities for young arms in the minors, but that's sadly an unlikely outcome.
3. Dominic Smith
Dominic Smith is the worst first baseman in the league, and it isn't particularly close. Offensively, Smith ranks in the bottom 3 among qualified first basemen in WAR (0.1), HRs (12), ISO (.112), SLG (.366), OPS (.692), wOBA (.306), wRC+ (90), HR/FB% (7.3), average EV (86.3 mph), max EV (108.3 mph), WPA (-1.62), and HardHit% (30.8). In short, he's absolutely terrible in nearly every measurable offensive stat. First base is an offense-first position and Dom Smith is offense-last. Some may rush to point out his defense, which wasn't bad by any means (1 OAA, 14th among qualified 1B), but it certainly didn't make up for his lack of offensive output; besides, defense isn't all that valuable at 1B, especially when compared to offensive value. Dominic Smith provides nothing of value to the team ("clubhouse presence" isn't a reason to keep an awful player) and should be nowhere near Nationals Park in 2024. Unless, of course, the goal is to lose games. There are many options the Nationals could (and should) go with instead of Smith. Deciding not to tender a contract to him would be the right decision, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen.