On a certain level, the Nationals’ decision Friday night not to tender a contract to Luke Voit made sense. They never coveted the 31-year-old in the first place. He was simply a player added to last summer’s haul of prospects in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell deal with the Padres because the Nats needed one actual big leaguer who could finish out the season with them.
Voit wasn’t going to be part of the Nats’ long-term plan, so why spend $8 million or so via arbitration to bring him back?
That’s all sound logic, except for the end result of all this: The Nationals now need to acquire two more bats this winter, and there’s a good chance it’ll cost them more than $8 million to find somebody at least as productive as Voit.
At this early stage of the offseason, we can probably safely name six of the projected nine members of the Opening Day 2023 lineup: Keibert Ruiz behind the plate, Joey Meneses at first base (or maybe left field), Luis García and CJ Abrams in the middle infield, Victor Robles in center field and Lane Thomas in right field.
Third base will be up for grabs, with Carter Kieboom attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, Ildemaro Vargas returning after a surprisingly productive couple of months to end the season and Jake Alu now on the 40-man roster after putting up some shockingly good numbers at Triple-A Rochester.
So that leaves left field and designated hitter. (Or first base, if Meneses is moved to the outfield or is made DH.)
There’s nothing wrong if the Nationals believe they need to upgrade at both positions. This lineup needs a lot more punch, and established hitters would be oh so welcome right now. But are they in a position to spend what it will probably cost to acquire two established hitters? Because if they aren’t, they don’t exactly have any great in-house options to fill either of those spots.
At the moment, the only left field candidates on the roster are Alex Call and Josh Palacios. It’s hard to believe the Nationals would enter spring training with nothing more than that.
And at DH … well, it would have to be Call or Palacios or the loser of the third base competition or Riley Adams. Point is, there isn’t anybody in the fold already to fill that significant void.
We’ve outlined here before how little the Nationals have committed to their 2023 payroll. It’s pretty much Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and not much else of consequence. So there should be plenty of room to spend money on both a left fielder and a DH. But will Mike Rizzo be allowed to do that?
As with every other major decision the Nats need to make this winter, it’s really hard to know the answer right now.