Cronin DFA as Strasburg rejoins 40-man roster; Nats move night games to 6:45 p.m.

The Nationals set their 40-man roster for the offseason as required by Major League Baseball this afternoon, activating five players who had been on the 60-day injured list (including Stephen Strasburg) and designating minor league reliever Matt Cronin for assignment to clear the spot needed to get the organization down to the correct number.

With 41 players under club control but only 40 slots available now through Opening Day, the Nats decided to drop Cronin, a 26-year-old lefty who looked like he would be a part of the team’s long-term plans entering this season but fell from grace following a rough season that ended in injury.

Cronin, a fourth-round pick in 2019, posted a 2.42 ERA and 1.096 WHIP in 48 games with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester in 2022. But he struggled to a 5.02 ERA and 1.884 WHIP this season in Rochester and had surgery in August for a herniated disc in his back.

Meanwhile, the emergence of Robert Garcia, Jose A. Ferrer and Joe La Sorsa this year left the Nationals with several left-handed options for next year’s bullpen, further making Cronin expendable.

If Cronin goes unclaimed, he could be outrighted to the minors and remain in the organization, albeit no longer a member of the 40-man roster.

All five players who ended the season on the 60-day IL (Strasburg, Riley Adams, Cade Cavalli, Stone Garrett, Victor Robles) are now back on the 40-man roster as the offseason officially commences. Cavalli (Tommy John surgery) and Garrett (fractured leg) aren’t expected to be ready for Opening Day and figure to open the 2024 season back on the 60-day IL. Adams (fractured hamate bone) should be ready long before spring training begins. Robles (back spasms in lumbar spine) was hoping to begin baseball activities shortly after the season ended and could still wind up the Nats’ starting center fielder on Opening Day.

Strasburg, though, isn’t currently healthy, nor does anyone expect him to be able to pitch again after multiple failed attempts to return from his 2021 thoracic outlet surgery. The 2019 World Series MVP conceded his career was over in August, and the Nationals began making plans for a formal retirement announcement.

But the ongoing and complex negotiations between the two sides over the $105 million still owed Strasburg in the final three years of the seven-year, $245 million deal he signed in December 2019 prevented that announcement from taking place.

That leaves Strasburg and the Nationals in a most unusual and most undesired position. If he retires without working out a financial deal with the club, he forfeits the rest of his contract. If the team releases him, it is responsible for all of the money. If they proceed with the status quo, Strasburg must remain on the 40-man roster all winter and in theory continue to rehab in an attempt to return to the mound some day.

Nobody believes that final scenario is plausible, but for now the Nats are willing to use up a 40-man roster spot on Strasburg. That feeling could very well change as the offseason progresses and that precious spot is needed either for someone already in the system or a player being acquired from outside the organization.

* New start time for night games
The Nationals announced game times for the entire 2024 home schedule today, with one significant change: Night games will now start at 6:45 p.m., 20 minutes earlier than the traditional 7:05 p.m. start time.

In a move team officials had been considering for a while, first pitch is being pushed up in an attempt to lure more fans (especially those with children) to weeknight games. The earlier start time, combined with the shorter average game time that became reality this year with the addition of the pitch clock, means night games could now typically be over between 9-9:30 p.m.

“Our goal is always to deliver a top-tier ballpark experience to our fans, and that includes making sure that attending a game at Nationals Park is as convenient as possible,” Alan Gottlieb, chief operating officer of Lerner Sports Group said in a statement announcing the change. “Starting our evening games 20 minutes earlier, combined with MLB rules that have significantly shortened game times, makes it easier for fans to stay the full nine innings – even on a school or work night.”

Start times for afternoon games will remain unchanged, with most Saturday games starting at 4:05 p.m., Sunday games starting at 1:35 p.m. and weekday matinees mostly starting at 1:05 p.m. or 4:05 p.m. The traditional Independence Day game will continue to have a special 11:05 a.m. first pitch.

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