TODAY: Adams will wait until at least Tuesday to decide on his future, the infielder told Mark Zuckerman and other reporters. He’ll report to the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate unless another team presents a clear big league opportunity in the coming days.
MARCH 25: With Opening Day now less than a week away, teams around the league are making their final roster decisions. The Nationals announced several such decisions today, with right-hander Paolo Espino and infielder Jeter Downs getting optioned to the minors, while non-roster invitees right-hander Alex Colome, Andres Machado and Wily Peralta were all reassigned to minor league camp. Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com spoke to manager Dave Martinez about the roster configuration, who added that first baseman Matt Adams has been informed that he won’t be making the club.
These moves bring the club’s roster down to 26, which suggests everyone who has not been cut has made the team. However, it seems that is not set in stone, with the Nats staying open to a late waiver claim or perhaps some other player become available by an opt-out. “There’s no set roster right now,” Martinez said. “We still have decisions to make. We probably won’t make any decisions until we go back to D.C.” Several veterans on minor league deals have opt-outs they could trigger this weekend and other players could wind up on waivers as teams make their final roster decisions, so the Nats aren’t carving things in stone. However, the cuts do seem to indicate who won’t be on the club.
Espino, 36, seems like he could be the first one called if the Nats need another starter. With Stephen Strasburg on the shelf for the foreseeable future and Cade Cavalli set to miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery, the club’s rotation has already taken a couple of hits. It seems like they will start the year with Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Chad Kuhl as the top five, with Espino staying stretched out in Triple-A.
“I think I’ve done a really good job in spring,” Espino said. “But at the same time, I have options. There’s always a possibility (of getting demoted) having options. I know some of the guys, most of them, don’t have options. It’s just part of the game, part of baseball, and some decisions they have to make. For my part, I’m just going to go where they send me and I’m going to put in the innings I need to do to get the job done. And hopefully be back up soon.”
Of the five aforementioned rotation members, only Gray and Gore can be optioned, but they are two of the club’s top prospects. Getting them big league experience is a priority for the team this year, which seemingly nudged Espino down to the minors. Kuhl is not yet on the 40-man but can opt out of his minor league deal today if he doesn’t get a spot. Espino operated as a swingman for the club last year, posting a 4.84 ERA in 113 1/3 innings. It seems highly likely he’ll get another shot in the big leagues as soon as health or fatigue among the other pitchers warrants it.
Colome and Machado, meanwhile, both seem likely to factor into the Nats bullpen at some point this season, while Peralta could feasibly contribute in either role, given 139 of his 258 career appearances have come as a starter, though the Nationals mostly used him as a reliever during camp. Of course, Colome and Peralta will both have the ability to opt out of their contracts this weekend, should their wish to do so.
With ten seasons under his belt as a big league reliever, Colome is among the more experienced options at Washington’s disposal for their bullpen, but with a 4.82 ERA (92 ERA+) since the start of the 2021 season, it’s easy to wonder if the 34 year old Colome might not reclaim the success he saw from 2016 to 2020, when he posted a 2.62 ERA (163 ERA+) in 274 2/3 innings while racking up 138 saves for the Rays, Mariners, and White Sox.
Machado, 29, has posted a 3.41 ERA (117 ERA+) in 95 innings of work in the big leagues since making his Nationals debut in 2021. That being said, underlying metrics don’t rate the right-hander’s work so highly, with subpar strikeout (18.3%) and walk (9.9%) rates explaining his 4.56 FIP over the past two seasons. Peralta, meanwhile, provides the Nationals with a veteran swing-man who has posted a 4.29 ERA (95 ERA+) in 911 1/3 innings of work over ten seasons in the major leagues.
On the positional side, Downs was among the more highly regarded prospects in baseball in the lead-up to the 2020 season, when he was shipped from Los Angeles to Boston as part of the Mookie Betts deal. Since, then, however, Downs has struggled mightily, with a .661 OPS in 180 games at the Triple-A level. Downs figures to attempt to right the ship in Triple-A with the Nationals to begin the season, and could supplant Ildemaro Vargas as a middle infield option for the big league roster sometime this season if he manages to bounce back.
Adams was a member of the World Series champion 2019 Nationals, though he struggled to a .226/.276/.465 slash line in 111 games that season. A power bat with a high strikeout rate, Adams stood as the primary challenger to Michael Chavis for a role as a pinch hitter off the bench. That role appears to be poised to go to Chavis while Adams, 34, will decide whether or not to try his luck in another organization or stick with the Nationals.