Every offseason we hear the same thing over and over again from GM Mike Rizzo on what he is going to be focused on during the offseason. The answer is somewhere along the lines of: “We will field the most competitive team as possible,” “the Lerner’s have told me to put together a championship caliber team,” or of some sort of those two answers. However, this year when Mike Rizzo gets that question his answer should be: “Do whatever it takes to make Juan Soto want to stay and happy.”
Okay, all kidding aside, we all know that he isn’t going to say that, but Rizzo’s actions or in-actions during this offseason will show what will be the team’s identity for the upcoming season. There are really two paths that the Nationals can pursue, however, there is really only one option and that is to make Juan Soto happy.
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Obviously, only Juan knows what will make him want to stay with the Nationals long term however, the Nationals front office should keep Soto in mind in every situation that presents itself during the offseason.
So, what are the two paths that the Nationals could travel down next season that I see:
Become an AAAA Team for the 2022 season or take steps to improve their roster a bit and be a somewhat competitive baseball team in the NL East. Let’s explore both paths a bit closer.
AAAA Team 2022
This seems to be the worst option and something that obviously will not be said publically, however, it is a realistic option for the Nationals in 2022. In fact, if I had to put my money towards an approach, I would go about 80% in on this strategy, unfortunately. If Rizzo and Co, go this route, what would be the selling point for Juan Soto to want to stay long-term, or does Rizzo already think that Soto is going to walk and he is really seeing and planning for a post-Soto world?
Improve the Roster
Before we go down the road, what I am advocating for this path is just put a competitive team on the field for the season and remain competitive giving Soto another reason to want to stay here in D.C. There are some incremental additions that could be made this offseason at a reasonable price and have enough to keep in the bank for the Juan Soto contract.
The Nationals should look for another starting pitcher, add a couple of bullpen pieces to the roster and add a nice addition to the outfield and someone who could improve the lineup. One attractive option could be Nick Castellanos who exercised the opt-out clause of his contract to become a free agent last Thursday.
Castellanos currently plays right field, however, he has played 20 games in leftfield, so moving him to left wouldn’t be a big ask or something that he wouldn’t be comfortable doing. Additionally, moving him to left field will sure up the outfield with Lane Thomas in Center and Juan Soto in right.
In its most recent predictions, MLB has Nick Castellanos could be a fit for the Miami Marlins outfield. From the article: “The Marlins couldn’t work out an extension with Starling Marte before trading him to the A’s, but Castellanos is three years younger. The Marlins have only $8 million in guaranteed money on the books next season and zero dollars committed to 2023 and beyond. So they have room to be an intriguing player in this market, should they go down that path.”
Another interesting idea is to target and finally sign third baseman Kris Bryant. This signing is more of a dream rather than what I think will really happen. However, more and more singing Bryant to a contract really does make sense at this point. After a disappointing pandemic-shortened 2020, Bryant’s stock rose last season. Overall he slashed .265/.353/.481 with 25 homers and 73 RBIs for the Cubs and Giants. Bryant can be the long-term solution to the Nationals issues at third base as he played 47 games at third base. Bryant could also be shifted to the outfield specifically in left field where he played 35 games, 33 games in right, and 13 in center field. We’ve talked about it, he’s been linked many times to the Nationals, I think that it is about time that Rizzo and Co, finally make it happen.
In addition to providing a much-needed solution to third base, signing Bryant would be a good single to the fan base and Juan Soto that the team is in fact in a “reboot” mode and not a total re-build.