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The Washington Nationals Pitching Crossroads

We at the Nats Report believe that the Washington Nationals are at crossroads. Over the next few weeks, we will be examining the Washington Nationals from various position groups.


During the 2021 season, no team in baseball will spend more on starting pitching than the Washington Nationals. As a matter of fact, the franchise’s “big three” of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will earn a combined salary of just under $94 million this season. That figure is higher than the salary of any other team’s rotation as of January 19th and more than six MLB franchises spent on their entire roster during the 2019 season. The Nationals could add free agent Trevor Bauer to this mix as well, but it seems highly unlikely with the recent signing of veteran lefty Jon Lester.

Pitching has defined this era of Washington Nationals baseball and has taken up much of the team’s payroll over the last decade. However, this could potentially change after the upcoming season with Scherzer’s contract due to expire.The Nationals could undoubtedly resign what is likely the franchise’s first Hall of Famer in Scherzer, but it won’t be at an average annual value of $30 million, and this is where the change may begin. 

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Outside of Lucas Giolito and going back further to Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ farm system has traditionally produced top positional talent and therefore, the Nats have saved money during the tea control and arbitration periods for players like Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon.

Savings actually might be an understatement. In 2018, when all of these players were on the team, Harper, Rendon, Turner, and Soto‘s combined luxury tax hit was $31,047,000. This means that in 2018, Washington got 18.1 WAR out of 4 position players that only cost a total of $1,047,000 more than Max Scherzer toward the luxury tax.

Two of those players, Turner and Soto, didn’t even earn a million dollars. For years, the Nats could go out and spend big money on starting pitching, while knowing that they had cheap, impact bats waiting on the farm.  With four NL East Division titles and a World Series since 2012, this plan has worked more often than not. 


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