What the Nats' Opening Day lineup might look like

Though there’s still time for more additions before pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach – in a mere five weeks, by the way – the Nationals have now assembled what could be their Opening Day 2023 lineup.

They entered the offseason with three holes to fill: Third base, left field and either first base or designated hitter. In Jeimer Candelario, Corey Dickerson and Dominic Smith, they’re hoping they have adequately addressed those needs while constrained to a very tight budget. Those three free agents have a combined $9.25 million salary for the upcoming season, less than Josh Bell alone made last year.

Will that be enough? We’ll see. The success of the Nationals lineup may have less to do with those players’ performances than the performances of returning regulars Joey Meneses, Keibert Ruiz, CJ Abrams and Luis García.

But this is what Davey Martinez has to work with now. The question is how best to arrange this lineup.

Based on what Martinez did late last season, what he’s said this offseason and what’s now available to him, here’s one possible (probable?) batting order for Opening Day …

RF Lane Thomas (R)
SS CJ Abrams (L)
DH Joey Meneses (R)
3B Jeimer Candelario (S)
C Keibert Ruiz (S)
LF Corey Dickerson (L)
1B Dominic Smith (L)
2B Luis García (L)
CF Victor Robles (R)

No, that’s not exactly a lineup worthy of comparison to the one Martinez filled out for Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. It has some obvious flaws, most notably a real lack of power. It’s also very left-handed, with as many as six guys batting from that side of the plate against an opposing right-hander.

But there is some potential in there as well.

Thomas figures to get a chance to lead off again after an erratic 2022. Look at his on-base percentages by month: .246, .264, .347, .254, .307, .333. He’s got to find a way to be more consistent, especially if he’s going to bat atop this lineup.

Abrams may profile as a future leadoff hitter, but the Nationals may not want to throw that at him quite yet. The good news: He hit .294 in the final nine games of the season after getting moved up to the No. 2 slot. The bad news: His on-base percentage also was .294 because he didn’t draw any walks. That’s going to have to improve for him to stick at the No. 1 or No. 2 position long term.

This would’ve sounded ludicrous on Aug. 2, 2022, but the Nats lineup is going to be built around Meneses. That’s what two dominant months after his long-awaited promotion from Triple-A – not to mention the departure of every other proven hitter that used to play here – has done.

Martinez wanted left-handed protection for Meneses, and he’ll have his option of several to choose from. Candelario might be the safest bet from the outset, given his gap-to-gap power, though any of the three players who follow him in the lineup could also fill that role depending on performance.

The Nationals have high hopes for continued improvement from Ruiz in his second full season, especially in the power department. He should be a priority over the short-term additions of Dickerson and Smith, who could probably hit either sixth or seventh without much changing.

The club would love for García to develop to the point he can bat closer to the top of the lineup, but he’s still got a long way to go, so he stays in the No. 8 position for now. And at this point, it’s hard to imagine Robles getting a chance to do anything other than bat ninth and focus on his defense in center field.

So, that’s what a hypothetical lineup against a right-handed starter could look like. But the Nats seem to be positioning themselves to go with different looks against lefties. Here’s one possibility for those nights …

RF Lane Thomas (R)
SS CJ Abrams (L)
1B Joey Meneses (R)
DH Jeimer Candelario (S)
C Keibert Ruiz (S)
3B Ildemaro Vargas (S)
LF Alex Call (R)
2B Luis García (L)
CF Victor Robles (R)

In this arrangement, Dickerson and Smith take a seat, with the right-handed Vargas and Call getting the start instead. And with some positional flexibility at his disposal, Martinez could put Meneses at first base, make Candelario his DH and probably have a better overall defensive alignment, especially at third base and in left field.

Again, this doesn’t look anything like a championship lineup. But it’s what the Nationals have for now. And barring any more moves of significance, it could be what they have come March 30.

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