It's hard to believe the Nationals open the 2020 season in 11 days, but here we are. Barring a calamitous event - and, unfortunately, calamity must remain within the realm of possibility - Max Scherzer and company are going to take the field shortly after 7 p.m. on July 23 to face the Yankees and kick off this unprecedented baseball season.
And there's a whole lot the Nats still need to figure out between now and then. Like who's going to make the opening night roster.
Keep in mind, all clubs will begin the season with a 30-man active roster, a concession to the abbreviated summer training and the fact pitchers won't be ready for their usual workloads out of the chute. Two weeks into the season, the roster must be pared to 28. Two weeks after that, it must be brought down to 26, which is where it will remain the rest of the season.
It would be enough of a challenge for the Nationals to come up with the best 30 to open the year with. It's even more challenging when you consider the eight players who still haven't been cleared to report to the ballpark for camp, including some very prominent names (Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Howie Kendrick).
It's entirely possible some or all of those quarantining players won't be back in time for opening night. But for this morning's exercise, we're going to presume they're all good to go.
With that, here's one projection for the composition of the 30-man roster. It's hardly set in stone ...
STARTING PITCHERS (5)
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP AnÃbal SÃ¡nchez
RHP Austin Voth
The top four spots are locks. And, in fact, it appears safe to say the top three will start in that order against the Yankees, given how they've lined up so far for intrasquad games. The fifth spot will go either to Voth or Erick Fedde, now that Joe Ross has opted out. Either could end up here, with the other pitching out of the bullpen. At this point, Voth's emergence in 2019 might give him a slight leg up on the less-consistent Fedde.
RELIEF PITCHERS (10)
LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Daniel Hudson
RHP Wil Harris
RHP Tanner Rainey
RHP Wander Suero
LHP Roenis ElÃas
RHP Javy Guerra
RHP Erick Fedde
RHP Ryne Harper
LHP Fernando Abad
Will the Nationals really need a 10-man bullpen? Probably not with their rotation. But Davey Martinez needs to fill all these slots with someone, and it's never a bad idea to carry some pitching insurance. Doolittle, Hudson and Harris are set as the big three in the back of the 'pen. Rainey, Suero and ElÃas (if the latter two are cleared) are almost guaranteed to make the club and get opportunities to set up the big three. After that, the Nats will want versatility, variety and the ability to pitch multiple innings if needed. Guerra was the quiet, do-whatever-is-needed guy last year and should make it. Fedde (or Voth) makes it as the designated long reliever. The last two spots are very much up in the air, but for now we'll go with curveball specialist Harper over fellow righties Kyle Finnegan, Kevin Quackenbush and James Bourque, plus veteran Fernando Abad as the third lefty in the 'pen over Sam Freeman.
It might be tempting to keep a third catcher, because that would give Martinez the freedom to use any given night's backup as a pinch-hitter. But with a third catcher allowed on the taxi squad, it seems like a waste to use an active roster spot on one. If it was deemed necessary, the Nationals would choose between Raudy Read and Tres Barrera. (For what it's worth, Read has been getting work at first base in camp, perhaps a sign club officials see him as more than just a backup catcher in the future.)
The Nationals were exceptionally deep in the infield this spring. And even with Ryan Zimmerman's decision not to play, they're still quite deep there (provided Kendrick is cleared soon). With Kieboom being given the opportunity to play third base every day, Cabrera is freed up to move around the entire infield and also serve as designated hitter at times. Difo would've been squeezed out on a 26-man roster, but there's probably enough room for him on a 30-man roster.
Michael A. Taylor
If Soto and Robles are cleared, the starting outfield is set in stone. If not, Taylor and/or Stevenson are suddenly going to get a whole lot of playing time. Those two are valuable off the bench as pinch-runners, pinch-hitters and defensive replacements. BonifÃ¡cio, meanwhile, is trying to make the club as a non-roster jack-of-all-trades veteran. Martinez was really high on the 35-year-old back in spring training, touting not only his ability to do a lot of things on the field but also his infectious personality in the clubhouse. Someone's got to fill the Gerardo Parra role in 2020, right?