Washington Nationals Q&A

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals
Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

The Nationals have been playing some really solid baseball as of late, giving fans plenty to cheer for as they patiently, or impatiently, await the next great Nationals team. Leading the charge has been young emerging star shortstop CJ Abrams, who has been hitting over .300 since June with an OPS over .800. Abrams has also been on a torrid stolen base stretch since being moved to the leadoff spot, stealing 18 bags in 30 games which would be over 97 stolen bases in a full season.

Getting the most out of role players like Stone Garrett, Ildemaro Vargas and Riley Adams has also heavily contributed to the Nationals' success as of late. This begs the question: when can the Nationals truly compete again? We dive into that and more in this week's Q&A.

"Re 1st Base- I have seen some saying that the Werth-like signing for this team would be Rhys Hoskins this offseason. However, would it be better to wait a year and try getting Pete Alonso instead? Especially with Dom Smith under control for next season already?" - @JFLANland

If you look at the Nationals' farm system and who you would expect to fill a role on the big club in the future (not that any prospect is a lock), the only position really unaccounted for is first base. Second base could be a slight question too, but the Nats at least have some candidates whereas first base might require a prospect to move positions in order to fill that need.

This could be an opportunity to make a splash in free agency by bringing in a new long-term leader, as the Nationals did with Jayson Werth back in 2011. I really like the idea of either Hoskins or Alonso filling that void, but the biggest issue currently is the ownership situation. I'm not sure any free agents requiring an AAV over $10M will be in the cards for the Nationals until the team is sold. Hoskins could be a one year, flyer/prove it type deal since he's coming off a major injury and will likely be looking to prove he can stay healthy and perform at a high level in order to cash in on a long term deal.

The big draw for either Hoskins or Alonso is their ability to hit home runs. First base is a position you just have to get power from. As adequate as Dom Smith has been for the Nationals this season, they are actively missing out on production from the position due to Smith's inability to hit extra-base hits, let alone home runs. He's under contract for one more season, which I imagine the Nationals will exercise since he is so cheap and again, I don't see this ownership shelling out any money again this offseason. That puts the team in play for a first baseman in 2025 which would be Alonso territory or even Hoskins territory if he signs a one year, prove it deal for next year and performs well. I definitely prefer Alonso of the two, as even though his average is down a bit this year, he still has 35 home runs at the moment with a mid .800s OPS. He'll be 30 when he hits free agency, but first base is generally a position that ages better than some of the other skill positions.

"When will we make the playoffs again?" - @mrbessst

Let me first say that 2024 is a pipe dream. Yes, the Nats are playing above their low expectations, but this roster is still not deep or particularly strong. They need to supplement or outright replace some of their roster through free agency and through their strong farm system, the latter of which will take some time.

Naturally, fans are getting antsy seeing some quality baseball and they want to get back to the success of the 2010s. But remember, 2012 did not happen until all of the darkness from 2008-2010 happened first. 2011 was a year where the Nationals went 80-81 and showed signs of being ready to make that next step. If the Nationals do that in 2024, then we can think playoffs. But as I mentioned earlier, I don't see the current ownership re-investing in the club prior to the sale being made, which might prolong the wait a bit. Being conservative, I think the Nationals are looking at 2026. Assuming players like Dylan Crews and James Wood have their first full rookie seasons in 2025, that gives them a year under their belt before the real expectations kick in.

"With the nats loaded outfield farm system who do you think it the future, who gets left behind and who would have to change positions to hang around?" - @ComputerDude05

No prospect is a sure thing, but you can almost guarantee that both Dylan Crews and James Wood will get a legitimate shot to stick around in the Majors when their time comes. As both can play at least above average defense in Center Field and are not limited to a corner outfield spot, I think you can sharpie them in. A scorching hot take, I know.

That really just leaves one, maybe two spots if you want to open up the DH spot for an OF prospect. Robert Hassell III is probably the biggest name remaining and while it is promising that he seems to have re-discovered some of his power, he is still a bit inconsistent in AA and will need to prove more. Regardless, I still think he's the current favorite for that third spot.

Someone like Elijah Green has the talent, but he still very young and has a long way to go before he's even promoted to AA, let alone in consideration for a Major League roster. Same goes for players like Cristhian Vaquero and Jeremy de la Rosa. I believe all three could be trade candidates if Wood and Crews establish themselves quickly.

If that happens, I think the Nationals could be patient with Hassell if he struggles. They could also utilize free agency or trades and find a player not previously expected to fill a starting spot as they did with Lane Thomas. And before you ask, no, Lane Thomas is not a part of the future.

"Do you think we see either Wood or Hassell get a September call-up this year?" - @Natsdru

Short answer: no, not at all. I think we are looking at mid-2024 at the absolute earliest. I think the Nationals will continue to be patient with them and won't move them up until they prove that AA pitching is beneath them, which will likely be the remainder of 2023 at minimum. I think both will start 2024 at AAA and then it will only be a matter of time before we see them.

"What am I missing about Jake Alu? He does not seem like a great player." - @Kaisermjk

Perhaps a bit harsh, but I get where you're coming from. No one expected or expects Jake Alu to be the future at second base or an all-star caliber player. The reason Jake Alu has some popularity amongst the fanbase is because the Nationals FINALLY developed a player into a decent major leaguer. Alu was a 24th round draft pick, which I'm sure no one was expecting to make the roster. But Alu has worked hard and performed well at AAA both last year and this year. He has some defensive versatility and could potentially stick around as a utility guy. But for now, he'll get a fair shot to be the Nationals' second baseman for the foreseeable future.

"I like Rizzo but he has made some awful awful contracts and the lack of analytics scares me. Is there any hope we seem the next GM embrace analytics like Mike Elias & the Orioles? " - @ALF4Prez2020

Is there hope? Absolutely. I just don't think we see a change made anytime soon. Rizzo has been heralded for his ability to turn the Nationals' farm system from 29th to 4th in just a couple years, even though his mismanagement of the farm and inability to draft and develop players prior to that forced him to trade a generational player 2.5 years prior to free agency. Where Rizzo excels most is in the trade market, but even this year it seems like he was overvaluing Lane Thomas despite receiving plenty of interest. Let's hope he was right about that.

Nevertheless, Rizzo has done enough well to stick around in the eyes of ownership, whether it is the Lerners or someone new. I think there will need to be a stretch of underperformance before a change is made at the position.