It’s June 17, and we still don’t know when (or if) the Major League Baseball season is going to begin. But at this point, it’s pretty safe to say that however long the potential season is, it won’t be long. It won’t equate to one-half of a normal season. It might not even equate to one-third of a 162-game slate.
And that could have some significant ramifications for the Nationals, not necessarily positive ones.
I’ve been thinking about what 2020 is going to mean for the Nats as a whole and for individuals. Here are among the conclusions that stand out ...
All seven of those veterans are in the final guaranteed year of their respective contracts and could become free agents this winter. The club does hold 2021 options on Eaton and Sánchez, and Kendrick has a mutual option for 2021, so it’s possible any or all of those three could be brought back without reaching free agency. But there’s no telling how motivated the Nationals will be to retain them at their predetermined salaries.
And as much as Zimmerman, Doolittle, Suzuki and Cabrera mean to the franchise, each will be a year older having played very little this season. How committed will the club be to bringing any of them back?
* The Nats are losing one of Max Scherzer’s few remaining peak seasons.
Look, Scherzer could retire right now and his $210 million contract would still be a steal for the Nationals, who over the last five seasons have seen the ace win two Cy Young Awards, pitch two no-hitters, tie the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game and help them win the World Series. Anything else at this point is gravy.
But for all the fear at the time the deal was signed that Scherzer would become dead weight over the final portion of his contract, that just doesn’t appear to be the likely outcome. Assuming good health - and we have to careful not to just assume that, especially given what he dealt with last year - Scherzer should have been primed for another elite season in 2020, then perhaps one more in 2021 before his contract expires.
But even in a best-case scenario, the Nationals aren’t going to get more than maybe 12 starts out of Scherzer this season. And who knows what to expect in 2021, both from Scherzer and from the season as a whole.
If anyone is capable of maintaining elite form into his late 30s, it’s Scherzer. And maybe he’s still got plenty more big seasons in him, maybe even on another contract once this one expires. But it’s also possible we’ve already seen the best we’re ever going to see from him, and we certainly aren’t going to see a lot from him in 2020.
None of these guys is leaving anytime soon, but each had every reason to be excited about his potential to put up monster numbers in a full 2020 season. Soto would be a legitimate MVP contender. Robles would be looking to elevate his game to new heights. And Turner would possibly make a case for an All-Star selection at shortstop.
The Nationals can still get peak performances from all three this season, but it’ll be confined to 50 or 60 games. And then at the end of the season, each will be one step closer to free agency (Turner in 2023, Soto in 2025, Robles in 2026).
* Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo could finish out their contracts with a severely diminished season.
This was going to be one of the biggest storylines of the year, and though it has moved to the back burner during the pandemic, it still bears repeating that neither the Nationals’ World Series-winning manager nor general manager is signed beyond 2020.
Is there reason to believe ownership doesn’t want to retain either gentleman for 2021 and beyond? No. And odds are still in favor of contract extensions for both (or, at least, a pickup of Martinez’s option for 2021).
But there are no guarantees of anything. Until ownership does something to lock up Martinez and Rizzo, the possibility remains each man’s career with the Nationals could end later this year.