Is the Washington Nationals Rebuild Heading in the Right Direction?

The Washington Nationals are now a few years removed from beginning their rebuild. How close are they to opening a window to contend?

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: CJ Abrams #5 of the Washington Nationals flips his bat after hitting a two-run home run during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 11, 2023 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

The 2019 World Series victory feels like eons ago. Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and basically everyone else has moved on. Patrick Corbin is the lone player still holding on, and his $140 million contract is off the books at the end of the season.

Trading away Soto, Turner, and Scherzer bought back a list of prospects, some who have started to flourish in Washington, while others are on the cusp of debuting. To refresh your memory, here’s the return for each of the big trades trades:

Player Traded Return2023 Stats
Juan Soto MacKenzie Gore (MLB)136.1 IP, 4.42 ERA, 4.89 FIP, 151 K
CJ Abrams (MLB).245/.300/.412, 18 HR, 47 SB, 90 wRC+
James Wood (AA, #16 overall prospect).248/.334/.492, 18 HR, 10 SB, 124 wRC+ 87 games
Jarlin Susana (A) 63 IP, 5.14 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 62 K
Robert Hassell (AA).225/.316/.324, 8 HR, 13 SB, 81 wRC+
Max Scherzer & Trea TurnerKeibert Ruiz (MLB).260/.308/.409, 18 HR, 10% K, 93 wRC+
Josiah Gray (MLB) 159 IP, 3.91 ERA, 4.93 FIP, 143 K
Donovan Casey/Gerardo CarrilloOrganizational Depth

While the return has not produced anyone with the ceiling of Soto, Scherzer, or Turner, it has helped build a young core in Washington. Gore has flashed at times and shown enough to at least stick in the rotation long term. No, he’s not the Ace they still need but developing into a top three in the rotation is not out of the question.

James Wood is a tooled up, 6’6″ outfielder with a ton of pop, but also swing and miss. While the range of outcomes is drastic, he has All-Star potential.

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The strides we saw from Abrams, Ruiz, and Gray last season should give fans hope for the future. Development doesn’t happen overnight, and each of these players took steps forward last season. Next season will be huge for Gray. Will he cut down on walks and take a step forward or look more like a back-end option?

From these trades you have two rotation options with upside who still need to take major strides before being considered frontline starters.

A really solid catcher, a shortstop who’s trending in the right direction, and a top prospect in Wood. Hassell? Well, you might need to adjust your expectations.

So, where does the rest of the roster stand?

The rotation needs helps. While I like Gore and Gray, I have my questions on just how high their ceilings are. Jake Irvin is a fine back-end option, which seems to be the case with most of the pitchers on the roster.

Washington needs high upside arms and their pipeline lacks just that. Cade Cavalli could be an answer, but injury has delayed his development by a year. Maybe southpaw Jake Bennett can turn into something, but he’s still a couple of years away. The way things are trending, Washington will need to make starters a top priority in the draft and in their offseason plans in the coming years.

Offensively, the current roster has few players who will factor into the future. Abrams, Ruiz, and potentially Lane Thomas, although he looks like a trade candidate. Luckily, the Nationals top prosects are mostly bats.

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Second overall pick from the 2023 draft, Dylan Crews, looks like the real deal and can fly through the minors. Brady House had a massive 2023 and is in line to be the long-term fit at third. Elijah Green, Daylen Lile, James Wood, and Dylan Crews gives fans an outfield to dream on.

As we head into 2024, I still have more questions than answers about this team. Who can become a frontline starter? Will Abrams improve defensively? What is the plan at second and first moving forward? Will James Wood swing and miss limit his ceiling?

The primary task in a rebuild is to add prospects and develop young players. Overall, Washington has done a decent job at both. They are still a ways away from being a competitive team. Prospects will need to reach the majors, go through the growing pains, and show us what they can actually be.

Offensively, Washington has enough promising young players to feel good about a potential core going forward. How successful they will be comes down to pitching.

Maybe Gore and Gray look better in 2024 and it is less of an issue, but that’s not a guarantee. Free agency and trades could quickly swing the trajectory, but as of today I see the Nationals roughly three years away from being competitive.