While I didn't expects the Washington Nationals to sign major names this offseason, nor contend for the playoffs in 2024, I certainly did not expect them to be so quiet. Outside of the Nick Senzel signing, Dylan Floro, and a few minor leaguers, no moves have been made for positions that the Nats desperately need, such as a power bat at First Base, DH or in the Outfield or in the Starting Rotation.
Arguably the biggest area of need is at First Base. Dominic Smith was solid defensively but only had 11 home runs the entire 2023 campaign. First basemen need to put up much better power numbers than that. I know a lot of Nationals fans, including myself, would like to see Rhys Hoskins come to DC. However, I don't think ownership is going to spend the necessary funds to acquire him nor would he want to come to Washington when there's the possibility he could play for a fringe playoff team, like the Cubs who are rumored to be interested. It seems that the team is not even going after the low hanging fruit like Joey Votto or even Mike Ford. Instead it appears they are going to let Joey Meneses be the everyday First Baseman, which is acceptable if he can put up some better power numbers like he did in 2022. In 2023 he only hit 13 home runs in 611 Plate Appearances, although he did have a decent RBI number with 89. He apparently had a knee injury for a good portion of 2023, so hopefully he is fully healthy for '24 and can put up at least 20 home runs. I would still like to see Davey give Riley Adams some work at first base but I don't think he will, especially coming off a hamate injury.
The Nats could also use a left-handed outfield bat with some pop, as they have expressed their desire publicly on several occasions, but they have not even made a peep in this department. Jorge Soler is a righty who would be a fantastic signing, but the Nats likely won't do it due to cost and the fact that Soler will command a multiyear deal. David Peralta comes to mind as someone who could fit in quite nicely, as does Joc Pederson who unfortunately will fall into the "costs too much" category. Overall, I'm not too worried about the future of the outfield considering that Stone Garrett will be back along with Victor Robles from their respective injuries, but more power and options would be nice. However, throughout the year, we could see some call-ups of some top prospects, such as James Wood, who is a lefty, or Dylan Crews. It would be nice to get a guy in free agency though to have it solidified.
A fifth starter is also a necessity. With Cade Cavalli recovering from Tommy John surgery and Trevor Williams not really capable of being a full time starter, the Nationals could really use a fifth rotation arm unless they really want to test Jackson Rutledge and slide him in that spot. The only option that I think the Nats would even go with is Carlos Carrasco. Spotrac has him projected to earn just under $7 million next season. He didn't have a good year last year but it might be worth seeing if he can bounce back. Options are a good thing.
All of this is to say that the Nationals should not necessarily be spending tons of money but it also does not mean they should not be spending any money to improve their roster. It feels as though they are not even making an effort to make even the most minimal improvement.
Doing nothing about these issues with less than two months until Spring Training starts leads me to believe that the Nationals are essentially punting on 2024 and going all in with young minor league talent and just enough financial power to be a really good team in 2025. It makes sense if you break down the financials. Patrick Corbin's $35 million is off the books and he probably won't return. An additional $7 million from Trevor Williams is gone. Victor Robles is as good as gone, not to mention some deferred salaries. Apparently, Patrick Corbin has $10 million deferred to 2025... but still, about $40 million comes off the books after this season. The Nationals can use that plus whatever money they currently have to build a contender for 2025.
While they have plenty of spending power now (approximately $110M under the luxury tax threshold according to Spotrac), the penny pinching this offseason leads me to believe that, barring any late offseason moves, this is it. I think the Nats are banking on a lot of guys to have improved years and that is fine for now, but we need to be prepared for some possible regression, just like the team needs to be prepared to be aggressive in 2025 if this season blows up in their face. However, adding a piece or two on a short-term deal now could help the team for 2024 and into 2025 depending on the length of deal and if they could be a deadline flip.
If the Nationals do not do anything relevant next offseason, I think it is more than fair to say that the Lerner's have checked out and new ownership is needed. Until then, we are stuck with them but the 2024-2025 offseason will be incredibly crucial to the long-term success of this team.