In recent years, offseasons for the Washington Nationals have been focused on the team trying to sign one of its superstars.
Most recently, it was Juan Soto, who, of course, the Nationals couldn’t come to an agreement with. After the team’s World Series in 2019, it was Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon — the former was inked, the latter left for the Angels. The year before that, it was Bryce Harper, who chose Philadelphia instead.
But this offseason, there are no superstars left to sign.
In most ways, especially for fans, that makes this offseason a boring one. It doesn’t need to be said, but the Nationals probably aren’t going to sign any of the top players in free agency. A rebuilding organization is unlikely to lure Aaron Judge, Jacob deGrom or Carlos Correa to play in the District — and the team is focused on the development of its farm system over the short-term gains a free-agent signing would bring.
However, with three months until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, there are still questions facing the franchise. Here are three of the biggest ones:
1. Who could buy the team?
This is the million dollar — er, $2 billion — question.
The answer, of course, is no one knows. Some names to buy the team from the Lerner family have been floated, including Wizards/Capitals/Mystics owner Ted Leonsis, Freedom Mortgage CEO Stanley Middleman and South Korean billionaire Michael B. Kim. Leonsis is believed to be the leading candidate, according to a report from the Washington Post.
While all eyes in the District are on whether Dan Snyder will sell the Commanders, it’s possible the baseball team in town could sell before the football team. An upcoming sale could also have an impact on how much spending, if any, the team does this offseason.
A new owner could shake things up — changing the team’s current tear down strategy. Or he could continue with the “reboot” that Rizzo initiated in July 2021 and continued this past season when he traded Soto to the Padres for a haul of prospects.
“I’m going to control what I can control,” Rizzo said at the end of the season when asked about the ownership situation. “We’re at business as usual.”
2. What are the futures of Rizzo and Martinez?
The contracts of both Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez run out at the end of the 2023 season.
They were set to become free agents following the 2022 season, but owner Mark Lerner exercised both their options for the upcoming campaign.
“Mike and Davey have been leading the Washington Nationals for several years and it is only right to continue with them at the forefront,” Nationals owner Mark Lerner said in a statement in July.
The ownership situation is only compounded by the uncertainty of the team’s future for its top executive and manager.
At the very least, it could complicate any contract negotiations that Rizzo, 61, and Martinez, 58, would have moving forward. It’s also possible that a new owner would want a new general manager and skipper to make his stamp on the club.
3. What is the status of the rebuild?
The 2022 season was the first full year of the Nationals’ reboot, and it was an ugly one.
Washington was the worst team in Major League Baseball with a 55-107 record. The 107 losses were the most in Nationals history — even worse than the franchise’s first handful of seasons in the District after moving from Montreal.
But the trades Rizzo made at the deadline in 2021 (shipping off eight veterans, including Max Scherzer and Trea Turner) and in 2022 (dealing Soto and slugger Josh Bell) have boosted a once-meager farm system.
What was considered one of the league’s worst farms just 18 months ago now ranks in the top half of the league. MLB Pipeline, which had the Nationals dead last before the 2021 campaign, now has the organization at 15th. FanGraphs, meanwhile, has the Nationals at No. 11.
The top-tier talent Washington got in return in those deadline deals — catcher Keibert Ruiz, starting pitcher Josiah Gray, shortstop CJ Abrams, starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III and outfielder James Wood — have all either contributed at the major-league level or are top-100 prospects.
“After this trade deadline, it accelerated our process a little bit. We added a lot of talent to our system,” Rizzo said. “The blueprint to win in a timely fashion is in place.”
The Nationals have four prospects inside the top 60 of MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings, including Hassell (No. 23), 2022 first rounder Elijah Green (No. 29), Wood (No. 35) and 2020 first-round selection Cade Cavalli (No. 58). Gore and Abrams, meanwhile, were top 100 prospects before graduating to the big leagues this season.
“Our prospect depth is as good as it’s ever been here,” Rizzo said. “The upside of our prospect list is probably the highest it’s ever been.”
The plan for 2023 is likely to continue the same course set out last season: develop prospects in the minors, eat another year off the expensive contracts of Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin and see what the young core is made of in the show.
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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