The Washington Nationals won the World Series a few months ago. Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg entered free agency soon after with Strasburg staying in the capital. Superstar third baseman Rendon headed for Los Angeles and the Angels.
Strasburg was the big addition, retaining the fearsome three-headed monster at the top of the rotation alongside Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. Postseason star Howie Kendrick returned on a one-year deal too. Yan Gomes signed for a couple of campaigns, Will Harris, Ryne Harper and Daniel Hudson all arrived (or stayed, in Hudson’s case) to bolster the relief corps. Ryan Zimmerman re-signed on a one-year pact, Eric Thames, Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera will look to fill the enormous Rendon-sized hole on offence.
The loss of Bryce Harper didn’t hurt the Nats. Juan Soto was superpowered enough to overcome that. Losing Rendon is a sterner challenge to tackle. The veterans are likely to hover around league average – Soto, Victor Robles, Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are the heartbeat of this line-up.
Carter Kieboom could be the key. Kieboom is projected for two WAR by ZiPS. A breakout year would be a big leap towards replacing Rendon’s offensive production from third.
Zimmerman is no longer an effective player to have at first. Being a franchise legend alters decision making, and he’s going to get plenty of plate appearances if healthy.
Expecting Soto to be a stud is reasonable. Relying on Eaton’s health and Robles making a step up is a risky business.
The aforementioned trio at the top of the rotation is the best in baseball. Scherzer and Strasburg are two of the Cy Young favourites and Patrick Corbin isn’t far behind. Anibal Sanchez is a decent fourth starter. They are perhaps short of a few starting quality arms, however, as Joe Ross is yet to prove himself as a guy who can provide good innings and sixth-arm Austin Voth is subpar.
Depth is vital, but Scherzer and Strasburg if healthy will eat innings. Perhaps a couple of veterans on minor league deals could be a route to fix this. There are still a few available. Wade LeBlanc and Trevor Cahill could picked up. If they’re willing to spend some of their remaining money before hitting the luxury tax, Andrew Cashner is be an option.
The bullpen has a few handy additions. It’s no secret how much of an issue it was last season. The Nationals relied almost solely on their starters in the postseason, and while it worked out, they need reliable relievers to compete in the regular season. They were 25th in wins above average from their relievers.
The Nationals were overlooked going into last season, although not here.
As champions, there’s no one underrating them this time round. Or there shouldn’t be.
The loss of Rendon will hurt more than Harper. The line-up is thin compared to others in the National League, but a big year from Kieboom could quickly change that perception. Turner, Soto, Robles are potentially a formidable triumvirate. Eaton’s on-base skills are handy. The high-floor veteran signings limit risk.
An injury to one of their top three starters might derail the season. If healthy, they are probably still one arm away from a really lockdown rotation. It will take time to know if they did enough to the bullpen.
Like 2019, the National League East is too close to call in 2020. The Nationals are well-placed to win the division, but a fourth-placed finish wouldn’t be a shock either. Ideally it would have been a busier offseason. Keeping quiet doesn’t rule them out of another postseason run, though.