The Nationals are facing a critical point in their rebuild heading into 2023 where they now have to evaluate who is a part of their long-term future and who is not. While last season was more of a "we're starting a rebuild, let's just get through this season in one piece" type mentality, this season they are projecting to enter the campaign with several players age 25 or younger in key starting roles such as CJ Abrams, Luis Garcia and Keibert Ruiz, with more potentially on the horizon. It is a good problem to have for the Nationals, but they will have to ask and answer some questions themselves about what is best for the team in the long run. This means former staples will now enter the year with major uncertainty. Here are 5 players facing uncertainty as we begin 2023.
1. Victor Robles
There is arguably no Nationals player with more uncertainty than Victor Robles. Once a top prospect in all of baseball now finds himself struggling to keep a spot on one of the worst teams in the sport. His defense is the real deal, and he will always have a home on an MLB roster for that reason, but he has not even come close to achieving his ceiling in any other regard, which realistically makes him a 4th outfielder at best. He has benefitted from 1) the Nationals rebuilding and 2) no real competition for playing time in Center Field. While neither of those is likely to change in early 2023, it could change soon if a guy like Robert Hassell III shows he is ready for the call up.
2. Stephen Strasburg
This one is painful to write, but it is true. Having barely pitched at all now entering year 4 into his massive 7 year, $245 Million dollar deal, Stephen Strasburg finds himself on the cusp of 35 with his body unable to fully respond to the plethora of injuries he's sustained in his career. While he absolutely deserved his contract after his masterful World Series and playoff performance as a whole in 2019, it is a tough pill to swallow for Nats fans knowing Strasburg's best days are behind him. His recovery from TOS remains a mystery to all, but I think that is in part because Strasburg himself doesn't fully know. We all want to see him back, but there is a possibility we don't see Strasburg pitch again.
3. Riley Adams
Acquired at the 2021 Trade Deadline from the Toronto Blue Jays, Riley Adams announced his presence quickly with a .268 Batting Average and a .887 OPS in 35 games after the trade. Adams seemed like he was going to be a fine major leaguer and platoon mate for fellow rookie and new teammate, Keibert Ruiz. The duo entered 2022 as such, but while Ruiz progressed, Adams found himself in a woeful season. He hit .176 with a .555 OPS in 142 plate appearances and was not very strong defensively, at a position that really requires you to be if you want to have a future in the game. It could be an adjustment to not playing as frequently as he did in the minor leagues, but Adams found himself out of his backup role late in the season as the Nationals opted to try out Israel Pineda instead. Pineda needs more seasoning himself, but if Adams does not rebound, the Nationals could look for catching depth elsewhere.
4. Alex Call
Having performed fairly well after his move to DC late in 2022, Alex Call found himself getting regular playing time for the first time in his career. He appeared in 35 games and hit 5 home runs with a .772 OPS. He wasn't getting MVP votes, but on a rebuilding team, Call showed he could fill a void. Fast forward to this offseason and the Nationals have added Corey Dickerson, Stone Garrett and Dominic Smith, all of whom do or can play outfield, to go with Victor Robles, Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses, all of whom will be starting, although Meneses seems to be moving to First Base and DH full time. That creates a problem for Call, who will really have to fight to stand out in a suddenly crowded position.
5. Patrick Corbin
This one shouldn't require too much explanation. Patrick Corbin was statistically the worst pitcher in baseball last year and has been basically since the World Series. While the Nationals and fans appreciate his contributions to the World Series championship, it feels like a lifetime ago since we have seen the Patrick Corbin who earned a 6 year, $140 Million dollar deal prior to the 2019 season. His contract all but ensures he'll be around this year, but if we're destined for a repeat of 2022 Patrick Corbin, how long can the Nationals realistically trot him out there every fifth day? 38 year old Anibal Sanchez, who didn't even pitch in 2021 and was not very good when he last pitched in 2020, managed to come back and outperform Patrick Corbin in 2022. If the Nationals are able to find players off the street to come in and pitch better than Corbin in 2023, they might be forced to.