It was a tricky task just days ago: For this week’s “The Hot Stove Show” on MASN All Access, I was struggling to put together a potential Opening Day starting defensive lineup graphic with the Nationals roster as it stood at the time.
Some positions were obvious: Keibert Ruiz was the starting catcher, CJ Abrams at shortstop and Lane Thomas in right field.
Some I could piece together: At the Winter Meetings, general manager Mike Rizzo and skipper Davey Martinez said Joey Meneses was going to play more first base. When Nick Senzel signed, he said he was being brought in to be the everyday third baseman. And until some prospects get more seasoning, no one is immediately pressing Luis García Jr. or Victor Robles for their jobs at second base and center field, respectively. (Yet.)
The starting pitcher came down to Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore. I went with Gray as he has tenure with the team and was the more consistent pitcher over the course of last season. It seemed the most logical choice, with the idea that short of an injury, Gore would have to very obviously outperform Gray in camp to get the Opening Day duties instead.
That left the designated hitter, left field and three bench spots open.
The Nationals are hoping Stone Garrett can return in time from his broken leg to play left field, or at least the DH role to start the season. But unfortunately, that’s unlikely after a gruesome injury late in the season. I ruled him out.
That meant left field came down to Alex Call and Jacob Young. I gave the nod to Call since he has more major league experience.
So who fills the DH spot?
Young, Ildemaro Vargas and Nasim Nuñez don’t provide the power you need from that position. They’re on the bench as a backup outfielder, utility player and infielder, respectively. Jake Alu and Carter Kieboom don’t bring pop either, and unless they win starting jobs outright, I don’t see the Nationals carrying them over Nuñez, unless the Rule 5 pick is injured or a total bust in spring training.
The next best power option is backup catcher Riley Adams, with Martinez having to rotate him, Ruiz and Meneses between catcher, first and DH to give everyone the needed days off. He probably has to rotate the likes of Thomas and Senzel in the DH spot, too.
But thankfully, this won’t be the case.
Mere moments after I finished the graphic and openly wished the Nats would make a signing soon to make it easier, news broke they were in agreement with outfielder/first baseman Joey Gallo on a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $5 million, plus another $1 million in incentives. The Nats made it official Saturday by announcing the deal also includes a mutual option for 2025, while designating catcher Israel Pineda for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
The Nats’ first major league addition since announcing the Senzel and Dylan Floro signings was enough to make filling out a potential Opening Day lineup so much easier.
The 30-year-old Gallo immediately fills multiple needs for the Nationals. He’s a left-handed bat to add to their right-handed-heavy lineup. He brings much-needed power to a lineup that desperately needed some, averaging 30.2 home runs in each of his last six full seasons. And he plays multiple positions, winning two Gold Glove Awards in the outfield and playing 147 games at first base over his career including 51 last year with the Twins.
For this exercise, Gallo immediately slides into left field, leaving Adams as the designated hitter. Ideally, that won’t have to be the case and Adams can be the full-time backup backstop.
But in a quiet offseason, the first domino to drop in over a month makes the blueprint to the Nats’ Opening Day roster a little clearer.
There’s probably one more spot in the potential lineup to fill, but who that will be and when it will happen remains to be seen.
Maybe I just need to make another wish.