March 29, 2023

Aaron Judge in a Nationals Uniform?

August 3, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

No, I did not predict Josh Bell going to San Diego, but who did? In my defense, just about everything else about the generational trade of Juan Soto yesterday, went down remarkably close to my crystal ball projections on July 22.  One has to give DC General Manager Mike Rizzo credit for getting C.J. Abrams and Luke Voit added to the mix of players, which is quite a pick up for Josh Bell.

The game that was played at Nationals Park immediately following the trade showcased another talent that the Washington nine will feature for the next few years:  Luis Garcia. Garcia is only 22 years old, and has a slash line of .290/.296/.435. He, along with C.J. Abrams will manage the middle infield posts in DC for quite a few years. How long? That question will be answered by the new ownership group that will will determine whether fans will be treated to more of the same, or something new and exciting to watch at Nationals Park in 2023.

The sale of the Nationals is anticipated to conclude in November. No one knows who will emerge victorious from the billionaire scrum. But one can hope they have the insight to do one thing the existing ownership group never did: invest heavily in player development. Robert Hassell, III, James Wood, and Jarlin Susana are all young, undeveloped talents coming over to the Nationals for Juan Soto. All of them will need the help of capable coaching and conditioning to fully realize their very prodigious talents. The same could be said for Elijah Green, who is missing from this new listing of Nationals top prospects, though he has reportedly been signed for $6.5 million.

I would rank Elijah Green as either first or second, but who is counting really? What is amazing to consider is that the top ten minor league talents for the Nationals now include at least five talents who will likely rank in the MLB Top 100 prospects for 2023. And there are others right behind them.

There is another very large box that the new owner of the Washington Nationals will need to check: hit the ground running. Hopefully whoever is putting together a bid package is also putting together an intellectually agile group to lead the team from the outset. There has been nothing written about whether Mike Rizzo, the existing GM, has talked to the representatives of any of the new owner groups. But hopefully they will have the foresight to keep him on the payroll through 2023. I had thought his contract ended this season, but he has another year. My bad.

More importantly, whether it is David Rubinstein, or Michael B. Kim that buys the team, they will need to make their presence felt at the winter meetings, to be held between the end of the 2022 season and the Christmas holidays. Aaron Judge is the “largest” free agent in the upcoming class that will sign in the off-season. The betting odds are that he lands back in the Bronx, and I would not waste my money saying anything to the contrary. But I remember well how Peter Angelos made his presence felt quickly after buying the Orioles and assuring the team would stay in Baltimore back in 1994.

After rattling the rest of the owner’s cage during the 1994 strike and playing a positive role in ending said lockout, Angelos brought in Raphael Palmiero, Kevin Brown, and Scott Erickson to shore up the Orioles for the 1995 season. They finished third in the AL East and the following year came within a fly ball of beating the Yankees for the AL Championship.

It would be nice to see the new Nationals owners make a similar splash and take a shot at winning “right off the bat.”

There are not many players with Raphael Palmiero’s bat available. There is more talent on the pitching side, and the Nationals have a few holes to fill there as well as among their position players. The high profile free agent pitchers include Noah Syndegaard, Jamison Taillon, Clayton Kershaw and others. Jacob deGrom seems likely to join this group, but no one knows for certain. And yet the chances that a high-profile free agent will sign to play in DC are not as bad as one might assume, given the bad press the recent sell-off has generated.

It is instructive to look back at the Texas Rangers, who spent large before the 2022 season to bring Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray, along with other free agents like Garrett Richards, Kole Calhoun and Brad Miller. The results are less than gratifying, but Dallas-Ft. Worth fans took heart that the team was willing to spend money to contend against the other Texas team that somehow always finishes in first place in the AL West.

The focus for the Nationals new front office should be on younger pitchers–younger players generally, who can be signed longer term without worries about them sticking up the joint in the last few years of their contract. To that end, I would look at Taillon, Sean Manaea, and Syndegaard as headliners, and then at Chris Flexen and Chad Kuhl to fill a second slot. Syndegaard might like to pitch against the Mets, who knows?

Speaking of the Mets, I would like to add Brandon Nimmo to the Nationals outfield, where there is a dearth of talent currently. Add Brandon Drury at third base and there are two hitters who can begin the fill the void left by Josh Bell and Juan Soto. Notice I said, “begin.” Perhaps the very best way to replace Josh Bell is with Josh Bell. After all, he is one of the best free agents available, and he had some of his greatest success as a player in DC. Improbable? Maybe, but just for the sake of argument, he becomes the Raphael Palmiero in my happy ending to this tale.

My 2023 Washington Nationals have Kiebert Ruiz, Josh Bell, Luis Garcia, C.J. Abrams, and Brandon Drury in the infield. Brandon Nimmo, Victor Robles, and Yadi Hernandez in the outfield, and Luke Voit as DH. I have a rotation of Syndegaard, Flexen, Cavali, McKenzie Gore, and Josiah Gray. It is at least a third place club, one that will win 80+ games, and could be a contender, “rather than the bum I am now.”

No, Aaron Judge is unlikely to play in DC in 2023. But the endless possibilities for next season are what drives baseball more than any other sport. Hopefully the new ownership group will understand that. There is so much hope for what they could do to add excitement. Hopefully Mike Rizzo’s trade with the San Diego Padres is just Act One, of a long running smash hit that will take Broadway by storm.

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