The Nationals hold 2023 club options on general manager Mike Rizzo and skipper Dave Martinez, as each is currently in the final guaranteed year of their contracts. Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes that Washington is expected to exercise their option on Rizzo, who has been running baseball operations in the nation’s capital since midway through the 2009 season. Nightengale adds that the team has until the All-Star Break to decide whether to pick up Martinez’s option, which he reports is valued at $4MM.
The Nats were excellent for a good portion of the last decade, making the playoffs five times between 2012-19 and claiming a World Series title during their final postseason run. That unsurprisingly seems to have bought Rizzo more time at the helm, even as the club has sputtered over the past couple seasons. After underperforming in 2020 and during the first half of last year, Washington kicked off a deadline sell-off. The Nationals shipped off a host of impending free agents and somewhat surprisingly pulled the trigger on a Trea Turner deal even though the star shortstop was controllable through the end of the 2022 season.
Parting with Turner signaled the Nationals were going to embrace a multi-year reboot. There was no indication that encompassed a possible trade of Juan Soto, however, and the superstar outfielder isn’t likely to find himself on the move this summer either. The Nationals’ dreadful start (last place in the NL East at 14-28) will no doubt lead rival teams to inquire about Soto’s availability, but a blockbuster trade of the 23-year-old feels like little more than a pipe dream right now.
Both Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic and Jon Heyman of the New York Post pushed back against the possibility of a Soto trade last week. Nightengale, meanwhile, writes that the organization is unlikely to seriously entertain the possibility until after the 2023 season — if at all. Soto reportedly rejected a 13-year, $350MM extension offer over the offseason, expressing a desire at the time to proceed year-by-year via arbitration. He remains controllable through 2024, however, and trading Soto this year would signify a rebuild of greater scope than the Nationals seem to want to entertain.
It stands to reason that Washington will be aggressive next offseason in acquiring upgrades to build a new core around Soto. They’ve little chance of competing in 2022, so they still seem likely to move impending free agents over the coming months. First baseman Josh Bell would probably be their most in-demand rental, although players like Nelson Cruz (if he rights the ship offensively) and César Hernández could hold some appeal as well.
Starting pitcher Joe Ross is another impending free agent who could be a viable midseason trade candidate, but he’ll first need to establish health. The right-hander was diagnosed with a partial tear of the UCL in his throwing elbow last summer, an injury that ended his season prematurely even as he avoided Tommy John surgery. He did undergo a less significant procedure during Spring Training, as doctors removed a bone spur from his elbow in March.
Ross opened the season on the 60-day injured list and isn’t eligible to return to the majors until the first week of June, but he’s moving closer to his season debut. The club informed reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post) that Ross is set to begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg this week. Pitchers can spend up to thirty days in the minors on rehab, so the 29-year-old should be back in the big league rotation within a month, barring a setback.
That’s likewise true of Stephen Strasburg, who has been on the 10-day IL all year as he recovers from last July’s thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The three-time All-Star is beginning a rehab stint with Low-A Fredericksburg on Tuesday (via Dougherty), suggesting he’s also trending towards a return within the next few weeks. Strasburg has made just seven starts since the beginning of the 2020 campaign due to various injuries.
With four-plus years remaining on the $245MM contract he signed over the 2019-20 offseason, Strasburg isn’t likely to be a realistic trade candidate anytime soon. Getting him back on track and finding anything resembling his pre-2020 form would give the Nationals a much-needed rotation anchor in their efforts to return to contention after this season, however. Washington’s starters have been a big culprit for their dismal start; only the Reds have a worse rotation ERA than the Nats’ 5.58 mark. Erick Fedde and Josiah Gray are the lone Nationals’ starters with an ERA south of 5.00, and both of them have allowed more than four earned runs per nine innings.