Nationals face offseason questions with Voit


Age on opening day 2023: 32

How acquired: Traded from Padres with MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III, James Wood and Jarlin Susana for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, August 2022

MLB service time: 4 years, 169 days

2022 salary: $5.45 million

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2025

2022 stats (SD/WSH): 135 G, 568 PA, 500 AB, 55 R, 113 H, 22 2B, 0 3B, 22 HR, 69 RBI, 1 SB, 1 CS, 55 BB, 179 SO, .226 AVG, .308 OBP, .402 SLG, .710 OPS, 106 OPS+, 0 DRS, 0.2 fWAR, 0.8 bWAR

Quotable: “This is a younger team, and I’m surprised they wanted a veteran guy. But I’m here to help out in any way I can. And obviously, I want to play this game as long as I can, so I’m excited to come over here and rake with these guys and, obviously, be a leader in the clubhouse and help these young guys become the best that they can be.” – Luke Voit

2022 analysis: Traded from the Yankees to the Padres during the first week of spring training, Voit struggled to find his footing in San Diego; he ended the month of May with only three homers to his name. Things got better over the summer, but then came a surprise development. When Eric Hosmer exercised his no-trade clause, it was Voit who was a late addition to the package of prospects the Padres sent to the Nationals in the Soto/Bell blockbuster deal.

Playing for a rebuilding club for the first time in his career, Voit felt out of sorts at first, though he did produce right out of the chute, going 7-for-17 with two homers in his first five games for the Nats. He proved to be a streaky hitter. Over a 21-game stretch from Aug. 26-Sept. 18, he hit a robust .317/.387/.524 with five homers, then struggled the rest of the way, batting .129/.154/.210 with one homer over his final 16 games.

The Nationals initially had Voit at first base, where he never made much look easy. He had particular trouble scooping offline throws from shortstop, contributing to the team’s overall defensive woes. Once Nelson Cruz was sidelined with a season-ending eye infection, Voit shifted to the DH role, opening up first base for Joey Meneses.

2023 outlook: This was a subpar season by Voit’s standards, and he’ll be the first to admit it. He finished with the lowest batting average, lowest on-base percentage and lowest slugging percentage of his career while striking out at a monstrous rate (one of the highest in the league). As recently as two years ago, he clubbed 22 homers over 234 plate appearances to lead the American League during the pandemic-shortened season. He hit the same number of homers this season despite taking 338 more plate appearances.

He may never hit for a high average, but Voit has to cut down on his swings-and-misses to get back to an acceptable level commensurate with his performance earlier in his career. He also needs to start hitting fastballs again: He batted well over .300 off them every season from 2017-20, then fell to .268 in 2021 and .248 this season.

The Nationals have a couple of decisions to make with Voit. First of all: Are they bringing him back for 2023. He’ll be entering his third of four arbitration-eligible seasons, and is projected to make upwards of $8 million. If they don’t think his production merits that salary, they could choose to nontender him this winter. If they do bring him back, they need to decide if his defense is adequate enough to play first base on a regular basis, or if they need to reserve the DH slot for him.

Voit was hardly the key to the Soto trade. But as the only experienced player acquired in the deal, the Nats would like to get as much out of him as possible. They have to decide now how likely he is to return to his pre-2022 form, or if this past season was a more accurate reflection of the current state of his game.

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