We’ve talked a lot about what the Nationals still need to do this winter to get their roster back into full form, whether that includes the re-signing of players who helped them win the World Series or the addition of newcomers who could help offset the losses of key figures.
But what do the Nats already have internally to address any positions of need? If they had to take the field today - and thank God they don’t - what would their roster look like?
Even if they didn’t have to cobble together a 26-man roster right now, it’s also helpful to look at the depth they have (or don’t have) at each position. It’s a good reminder of the strengths and weaknesses of their roster, not only at the major league level but at the upper levels of their farm system.
So as the clock ticks down on 2019, let’s take a moment to examine the organizational depth chart and see how things look on the cusp of 2020. Players included are those currently on the 40-man roster, plus other top minor leaguers who figure to be invited to spring training. Some who can play multiple positions are listed more than once ...
Comment: The Nationals were more than pleased with the combined production they got out of Suzuki and Gomes this season, and they made sure they’re keeping the duo together for another year. Read, who has a fourth and final option year available, figures to be the first guy on call in case something happens to one of the two veterans.
Comment: There’s no chance this will look the same come mid-February. The Nationals fully expect to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman at some point this winter. But they also could look to bring in a left-handed bat to share the job, whether that’s the return of Matt Adams or someone else from the outside.
Comment: If the season began today, you figure Kieboom would be the starting second baseman with Kendrick at first. But assuming Zimmerman is re-signed, Kendrick becomes more of a factor at second base. Perhaps not enough to fully bump Kieboom to the minors, though, if club officials believe he’s ready for prime time. There’s good depth here in Difo and Sanchez, but there may not be room on the roster for both backups.
Comment: The only position in the infield that’s fully settled at this point. Turner is back for his fourth full big league season, having developed into one of the better all-around shortstops in the game. Again, there’s good depth with Difo and Sanchez. And waiting in the wings is Garcia, the 19-year-old who has turned all kinds of heads in the minors and could become a factor by 2021.
Comment: If you didn’t already realize it, this is the Nationals’ biggest position of need. I mean, seriously. It’s not just that they lost Anthony Rendon. It’s that they don’t have anybody in house to take his place. Whether it’s Josh Donaldson or someone else, the Nats’ opening day third baseman is almost guaranteed to come from outside the organization. The only other potential scenario: If they add a big name second baseman, they could possibly give Kieboom a shot at the hot corner, though he has very little experience at the position.
Comment: Nothing to complain about here. Soto is The Man and will remain so for a long time. And if he ever needs a day off, Stevenson and Taylor are both more than capable backups.
Michael A. Taylor
Comment: Robles proved this season he’s the long-term answer in center field. There’s still room to grow, and the Nationals will hope he gets more consistent at the plate in 2020, but there’s little doubt he’s going to be a good one. And if something goes wrong, Taylor is a perfect replacement (unless the club thinks it’s time to see what the enigmatic outfielder could bring back in a trade).
Michael A. Taylor
Comment: Eaton finally put it all together during the second half of the season and into the postseason, redeeming Mike Rizzo’s decision to send Lucas Giolito and Co. to the White Sox to acquire him. But given Eaton’s injury history, the Nationals do need to make sure they’ve got depth. Stevenson and Taylor again are solid fallback options.
Comment: Wow, it’s an honest-to-god position of strength! And it’s not just about the Big Three at the top. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s actually a Big Four with Sánchez included.) The Nationals have to be pleased with their depth after years of concerns in that department. Ross, Voth and Fedde all showed something this season, and any one of them would be a more-than-capable No. 5 starter. The guys who don’t make it could stick as long relievers. Also keep an eye on prospects Braymer and Crowe, who could be ready to make their big league debuts in 2020.
Comment: That’s not a bullpen you want to throw out there on opening day. The Nationals know that, and they’re going to add at least two veterans to this group, with Daniel Hudson high on the list to be re-signed (if the two sides can agree on terms). No matter what, the Nats are going to have to rely on Rainey and Suero next season to be more reliable setup men. They’ll hope Strickland and Elias bounce back from injury-plagued 2019 seasons. And perhaps someone from the group of Williams, Bourque and newly signed Finnegan earns a spot and works his way up the ladder into a role of significance the way Rainey did this year.