The Nationals have finished last in their division in each of the last four seasons since being on top of the world and finally reeling in a World Series trophy in 2019. Within that four year span, Nationals fans have watched Mike Rizzo complete multiple blockbuster trades in an attempt to revitalize a farm system that was rather depleted. While former fan favorites have had some somber departures, a new era of fan favorites is hopefully blossoming before our eyes. However, the future of the Washington Nationals extends beyond the scope of just the farm system, and this 2024 offseason could have been an instrumental part of that future.
The only free agent signings the Nationals have made to date are 1-year deals with Nick Senzel, Joey Gallo, and Dylan Floro. Senzel, a former top prospect, struggled with injuries and never found his groove offensively during his 5-year tenure with Cincinnati. Joey Gallo has one of the most powerful left-handed swings in the game, but has never found consistency when it comes to his contact, making him a very hit-or-miss kind of guy, literally. Dylan Floro has been a consistent late inning reliever for years now, but took a slight step back in 2023.
These three signings follow the same mold as the rest of Rizzo’s free agent signings during the rebuild - guys who have struggled as of late but can hopefully recapture some success to be attractive assets at the trade deadline. Some of those free agent signings have been successful, examples being Kyle Schwarber and Jeimer Candelario, while many others, not so much.
This offseason was, and still is, a prime opportunity for Mike Rizzo and Nationals’ ownership to capitalize on a strong free agent class and attempt to push the team into contention. With the Nationals entering year four of the rebuild, it has reached that time where a team should be signing valuable free agents as reinforcements. Such players were available this offseason, and some somehow remain free agents.
Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Aaron Nola have all already inked long term deals and could be major building block pieces into years of contention for their respective franchises. Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, and Blake Snell are a trio of players that also are major building blocks, yet they remain unsigned. Other names that may not require a major contract include Jordan Montgomery, Jorge Soler, and Brandon Woodruff. Any of these players seem to be longshots given the Nationals financial stalemate right now, but that does not take away from the fact that any of them would be exceptional additions. Not only would they be exceptional additions on their own, but any of them could be just the initial major free agent signing that pushes the Nationals into contention.
The 2025 free agent class is just as stacked, if not more, when compared to this one. This gives the Nationals an opportunity to string two strong free agent classes together to put themselves right into a window of contention. Just to get started, the 2025 class features a few familiar names like Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, and Josh Bell. To get a little deeper in the class, former Cy Young Award winners Corbin Burnes, Robbie Ray, Gerrit Cole, and Shane Bieber could all be available, along with former MVPs Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Altuve, and All Stars like Alex Bregman, Zack Wheeler, Pete Alonso, Max Fried, and Gleyber Torres.
For some inspiration on what this could look like, look no further than the reigning World Series Champions - the Texas Rangers. The Rangers successfully compiled a couple strong free agent classes to complement the players they had been developing in house and truly complete an overall roster. The Rangers drafted and developed rookie sensations Josh Jung and Evan Carter, and now have Wyatt Langford soon to join them. They acquired Adolis Garcia, Nathaniel Lowe, and Jonah Heim early in their respective careers and worked on developing them into the contributors they are today. Chris Young then went out and spent over $1 billion in the 2021 offseason, handing out massive deals to Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, while also adding Jon Gray. In ‘22, it was Jacob deGrom and Nathan Eovaldi that received their payday to play in the Lone Star state. Overall, they achieved the perfect culmination by developing in-house talent and adding through free agency at the right time. This allowed them to progress from a 60-102 in 2021 to 64-98 in 2022, and then a World Series Championship in 2023.
There’s obviously no guarantee that it would be this simple for the Nationals, or any organization for that matter, but that kind of game plan is one that is currently available that the Nats could follow.
With that being said, let’s have some fun. Imagine the Nats lock up a major free agent this offseason, like Blake Snell or Cody Bellinger, and many of their young players and prospects take a step forward in the 2024 season. The Lerners then decide they are ready to pony up and take on some salary, especially with Patrick Corbin’s contract coming off the books. They sign a couple major names next offseason, and any of the major names in next year's class would be more than adequate. But to paint the imagination of Nationals fan, perhaps Juan Soto to complete the cycle and a starter like Corbin Burners or Shane Bieber. Add some of those free agent additions to a developing group of MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams, Cade Cavalli, Keibert Ruiz, Brady House, James Wood, Dylan Crews, and others, and hopefully that window to contention can open up.
Any offseason provides the opportunity to build. However, this offseason provides a unique opportunity. Given the strength of the upcoming class and the current state of the farm system, it is important for the Nationals organization to capitalize on this offseason and start pushing to compete. Once again, there are some financial complications that need to get sorted out first, but if the Lerners want to prove they still care, this offseason creates a prime time to act on those words.