The trade deadline has now come and gone and the end result was possibly surprising to a lot of Washington Nationals fans. A lot of us probably prepared to see Scherzer moved at the deadline, along with some other guys such as Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand, and Daniel Hudson. Trea Turner was also involved in the trade deal that sent Scherzer to Los Angeles and sent shockwaves through the fan base. This signaled a full teardown of what was once a championship-caliber roster only two seasons ago. With that core now gone, minus Soto and Strasburg, we must put all of our trust in the hands of Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo to put the pieces back together again.
(Related Article: Perspective: Don’t Worry Nationals Fans no matter what happens next; Max Scherzer will forever be a Washington National)
First and foremost, the stability of the National’s future starts with two arms: the right arm of Stephen Strasburg and the left of Patrick Corbin. Strasburg has pitched a total of 26.2 innings since signing a monster 7 year and $245 million contracts after being awarded the World Series MVP in 2019. In that season, Strasburg made 33 starts, pitched to a 3.32 ERA, with a career-high of 251 strikeouts. 2020 saw Strasburg pitch five innings and miss the entire season for carpal tunnel surgery. In 2021, Strasburg tried again, pitching 21.2 innings. But he has now been sidelined for the remainder of the year due to surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. 2022 needs to be his year now. Max Scherzer is now gone and Strasburg will be looked at as the ace of the rotation. If he can put it together health-wise, the Nationals will be in a good place.
After Strasburg, the left arm of Patrick Corbin needs to be a priority to “get right” for long-term success. Joining the Nationals on a 6 year and $140 million contract prior to the 2019 season, Corbin’s contract has already paid off for the Nationals in the form of the 2019 World Series Championship. Corbin started 33 games, pitched to a 3.25 ERA, and had 238 strikeouts in 2019. Not to mention, he took on any role that he could during the postseason run and was the winner of Game Seven of the World Series. Since then, Corbin has pitched 65 and 109.2 innings with only 142 combined strikeouts in 2020 and 2021 in only 31 starts. A 2020 ERA of 4.66 and 2021 ERA of 5.78 has been a recipe for disaster on top of those previous statistics. In order for the second half of this deal to have any value, we are going to need to see Corbin return to his 2019 form in 2022 and beyond.
Now for the fun part of the Nationals future: Prospects. Washington acquired 12 prospects after trading away nine total players, some of whom are already major league ready. Before the deadline, the Nationals had Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge in the MLB Pipeline top 100. Cavalli came in ranked 77th and Rutledge ranked 89th, so no guys in the top 50. After dealing Scherzer and Turner to the Dodgers, the Nationals now have two top 50 guys in Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray to go with the aforementioned Cavalli and Rutledge. Those three pitchers and catcher are almost certain to be the future of the Nationals rotation and lineup if they pan out the way they’re being projected. This is not to mention the other eight players that were brought in plus the draft to replenish the farm system. These players seem to have high upside while being young and under team control for multiple seasons which is what this club desperately needed.
(Related Article: Could We See Washington Nationals Pitching Prospects Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge in the Majors this September?)
The last piece of this complex puzzle is a player who is one of, if not the best hitters in baseball in Juan Soto. In his short career, Soto already has a WAR of 14.5, an average of .297, an OBP of .418, and an OPS+ of 155. Soto is only 22 years old and won’t be 23 until late October with team control through the 2024 season. This time frame gives Washington time to build the roster back up with signings and prospect development as well as working on a deal for Soto. At this point, I would consider it imperative that Juan Soto is given a Brinks truck and is locked up for the long term. He is arguably our most important piece for the future and should be treated as such.
Obviously, getting all of these parts to work together and be productive isn’t an easy task for Mike Rizzo, but we have to trust that the man who built a title contender can do it again. The most important thing for us as fans is to continue to support this team no matter what because we are all in this together. While it is sad when we lose Nationals legends like Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, it also has to bring us some excitement to see a plethora of young talent brought into our system as we prepare for the future. Adding some proven players over time, combined with players that are already on board, could set the Nationals up for another run of contention in the very near future.