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Washington Nationals 2022: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

The Nationals enter this season at a crossroads, hoping for better health in the rotation and for new young building blocks to emerge around Juan Soto

A nine-year stretch of perennial contention (eight first- or second-place finishes) and occasional coronation (2019 World Series title) came to a crash-landing for the Nationals in 2021, when the front office faced its sobering reality head-on by selling off premium pieces Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, as well as six other veterans. The result was a brutal, 97-loss season that brings the Nationals to something of a crossroads in 2022.

They say they're not in a full rebuild — not when the roster still includes the likes of Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, plus the infusion of young talent acquired at the trade deadline — but they could be in for a tough year. As for the long-term future, it appears to revolve around one central question: Can they sign Soto, a once-in-a-generation type of hitter, to a lengthy contract that will keep him in the nation's capital for all or most of the rest of his career?

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Nationals

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"You figure it's just a matter of time before they start spending big again. That's been their MO for a while, but it doesn't always work. Is anyone surprised that Stephen Strasburg basically hasn't pitched for two years? They should have thanked him for the World Series and let him go on his way. They're not getting much from Patrick Corbin anymore, either; he's got a terrific slider, but he falls in love with it and gets too predictable. They made a good deal with the Dodgers for Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz. Gray's not going to overpower you, but he throws strikes, and he's got moxie. Ruiz is a little rigid behind the plate — stiff hands — but he blocks balls pretty well, and he's got a decent arm. He's a work in progress, but he's gonna hit so well that he'll be one of the best offensive catchers in the game. Carter Kieboom hasn't hit in the big leagues, but I still think he'll be an answer here. He's got a good, short swing. And Juan Soto — well, it'll take a record deal to keep him long term, but that makes sense because he's the best pure hitter in baseball."

Beyond the Box Score

Sense of urgency One big reason for the Nationals to eschew a full rebuild and try to return to contention: Juan Soto's agent, Scott Boras, said Soto would not entertain the notion of signing a long-term extension with the Nationals unless he was confident the team was in position to win consistently. Soto reaches free agency at the end of 2024.

Washington Nationals 2022 Baseball Cover

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He's a keeper The Nationals' recent track record of retaining their position-player stars is dismal. They allowed Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon to walk away via free agency, then traded Trea Turner to the Dodgers before he could do the same. The Soto negotiations could dwarf them all, both in terms of import and money. Some in the industry speculate it could take $500 million or more to extend Soto. Among the circumstances hampering the Nationals in any potential Soto negotiation: The team owes Strasburg and Corbin $258 million through the end of 2026.

Fire sale The Nats' tumultuous sell-off saw GM Mike Rizzo deal away Max Scherzer, Yan Gomes, Jon Lester, Brad Hand, Josh Harrison, Kyle Schwarber and Daniel Hudson — all of whom were either on one-year deals or in the final year of multi-year deals — in a dizzying span of only 30 hours, netting the team a total of 12 younger players and prospects. That helped beef up a farm system that had been consistently rated among the worst in the majors.

Change of scenery Last fall, the Nationals shifted top prospect Yasel Antuna from shortstop to the outfield, a seemingly curious move given the recent departure of incumbent shortstop Trea Turner and the relative glut in the Nationals outfield. But Antuna's glove forced the move — he made 36 errors in just 96 games in Single-A Wilmington in 2021, and the team hopes that the move to the outfield could help him focus on offense.

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Projected Lineup

LINEUP

LF    Lane Thomas (R)
SS    Alcides Escobar (R)
RF    Juan Soto (L)
DH   Nelson Cruz (R)
1B    Josh Bell (S)
C     Keibert Ruiz (S)
3B    Carter Kieboom (R)
2B    Luis García (L)
CF    Víctor Robles (R)

BENCH

INF   César Hernández (S)
OF   Yadiel Hernández (L)
OF   Andrew Stevenson (L)
C     Riley Adams (R)

ROTATION

RHP    Stephen Strasburg
LHP    Patrick Corbin
RHP    Josiah Gray
RHP    Aníbal Sánchez
RHP    Erick Fedde
RHP    Joe Ross*

BULLPEN

RHP    Kyle Finnegan (C)
RHP    Tanner Rainey
RHP    Will Harris
LHP    Sean Doolittle
RHP    Austin Voth
RHP    Andrés Machado
LHP    Sam Clay
RHP    Patrick Murphy

*Note: Joe Ross is expected to miss the start of the season while recovering from an elbow injury.

2022 Prediction: 5th in NL East