2018: Record: 82-80
2018 Finish: 2nd in the NL East, 8th in the National League
Surprises in 2018
After Jayson Werth left the building and the Nationals locked the door behind him, the search was on for a left fielder to take his place. Adam Eaton would be moving back to Center field after missing a large chunk of the 2017 season. And, of course, the soon-to-be $300 million dollar man, Bryce Harper, would be in Right.
Victor Robles seemed primed and ready for the big stage, beginning the season as the top prospect within the Nationals organization, but it was another young star who capitalized on a hot start.
Juan Soto wasted no time joining the Nationals outfield. In his first MLB start, Soto hopped on the first pitch he saw from Padres pitcher Robbie Erlin, driving a three-run home run over the bullpen in left field. Soto was off to the races, and wouldn’t let up until the season is over.
It’s not that Soto’s stellar performance was outside the realm of possibilities. In fact, his minor league numbers illuminate just how talented this kid is. Slashing an obscene .362/.406/.604, with an OPS of 1.043, in his three minor league seasons, the only thing more remarkable is that that Juan Soto was the youngest player in the major leagues during the 2018 season.
Finally, the Nationals trusted their farm system to produce another Bryce Harper-like stud. Soto could have easily been involved in a trade in the last two years, so it’s good to see Mike Rizzo trusting his farm system in 2018.
Disappointments in 2018
How can a pitcher with the credentials of Stephen Strasburg be a disappointment? When he fails to perform at the level expected by the fans fans front office.
Strasburg aggravates me, because he has all the potential in the world to be a clone of Max Scherzer, but can’t seem to find his consistency. After receiving a hefty contract extension in 2017, the Nationals were looking for Strasburg to repeat the success of last season.
Instead, Strasburg rewarded the Nats with the worst season he’s had to date.
In 22 games, the fewest he’s pitched since 2011, Strasburg went 10-7, with a 3.74 ERA, and a 1.200 WHIP. While those numbers might not seem as bad as the words “career worst” might make them sound, for a pitcher of Strasburg’s caliber, he should be better. When you are one of the top paid pitchers in the game, you can’t just be coasting through the season, you gotta pitch better than C.C. Sabathia, Wade LeBlanc and Marco Gonzales.
Considering that Strasburg got 5.27 runs of support in his 22 starts, which should be enough to hold onto a lead, right? Not if teams are hitting better against you in higher scoring games.
Look, is Stephen Strasburg still one of the better pitchers in the game? When healthy, absolutely. But next year, the Nationals are going to pay him $38 million, which is 20% of the Nationals payroll. If Strasburg wants to stay on the right side of his contract and the fans, he’ll have to step up. The nice thing about having two aces is their dominance and consistency. Without that, it’s just Max Scherzer and another guy who pitches.
Looking Ahead to 2019
Let’s talk about two things: Bryce Harper and Payroll.
Let’s say Bryce Harper stays in Washington, which as of right now, is still on the table. Let’s also say he gets the rumored 10-year, $300 million dollar deal. That would mean that over the next decade, the Washington Nationals would be paying at least $55 million dollars a year to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, regardless of whether they’re playing in Washington or not.
The problem with deferred money is that you still have to pay the man, it’s just further down the line. My guess is that Harper walked from the Nationals first offer because A) It’s Free Agency, you gotta test drive some cars, ya know? And B) because there was a lot of deferred money. Lest we forget the Nationals could have had Yoenis Cespedes playing in Left for the 2016 season, but offered him a deal with deferred payments.
Over the next few years, the Nationals are going to feel the brunt of those deals, which could hamper their ability to keep young talents like Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and potentially Victor Robles and the aforementioned Soto.
There is a world where the Washington Nationals hit rebuild quicker than expected, but for the sake of the Washington faithful, let’s hope that’s not the case. Especially if Bryce Harper doesn’t return, they’ll need someone to step up and be the face of the organization. Who will step up and take on the challenge? It’s too early to tell, but they might not stick around for long when the money isn’t there.