Everyone who left Nationals Park on Sunday following the season finale wondered what next year will look like. A full season? A full stadium? Normalcy back to Major League Baseball and the country as a whole?
For a significant list of Nationals players, next year may be happening somewhere else. The last-place Nationals will receive a needed overhaul in the offseason. One of Mike Rizzo’s team-building tactics is to provide the organization flexibility via one-year deals or contracts with options. The 2020 roster featured several such circumstances and as a result, many will not be back. Here’s a look at who probably played their last game with the Nationals on Sunday, earlier in the season or didn’t play this year and will likely be released:
Perhaps the biggest name on this list, Eaton is facing an uncertain future because his contract is out of his control. The Nationals hold a $10.5 million team option for next season. Eaton’s 2020 offensive performance — .669 OPS — and declining defense makes it likely the Nationals will not pick up his option.
If this is the end for Eaton, he leaves after four years with a mixed legacy. His time in Washington was hindered by an ACL tear just 23 games into his first season. When he played, his offense was close to career norms. His defense was well below the level he showed pre-trade in Chicago.
Eaton’s best season was 2019. His regular season ended with a .792 OPS. He also had a steller World Series. He’ll always be attached to the 2019 team because of that.
But, Eaton will also be assessed versus the bundle of starting pitchers Rizzo traded to acquire him: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning. Giolito is becoming a star. López is in the majors, however he is not pitching well. Dunning debuted this season and appears to have a promising future.
Cabrera’s second stint with the Nationals is coming to a close. He’s 34 years old, a hot start preceded a rough end and the Nationals need to become younger overall.
Cabrera worked the 2020 season on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. His value was in the price and versatility he provided. Cabrera played third and first, was a switch-hitter and helped deliver an upbeat vibe. Signing him in August of 2019 following his release from Texas proved to be a shrewd move. Now, that well is running dry.
Thames struggled with the situation throughout 2020. He explained the challenges of playing in abnormal circumstances early in the season. By the end, he was putting his hands on his bald head during Zoom calls with reporters and sighing emphatically. He was frustrated.
Thames’ 65 OPS-plus was a large influence on his frustration level. He was hired to be the 2020 left-handed platoon option at first base. Now, they will need to find another by declining the organization’s end of a mutual option for 2021.
Michael A. Taylor
Taylor reaches free agency at age 29. He remains a superior defender and erratic hitter.
Taylor was a touted prospect who couldn’t find a rhythm at the major-league level despite numerous swing changes. His 2017 season appeared to be a breakout year, but he floundered in 2018.
Taylor worked as the fourth outfielder in the last two years. The late-season emergence of Andrew Stevenson — and his low cost — will send Taylor onto a new team for the first time in his major-league career.
This one is a bit trickier. But, the Nationals could deem their work with Voth has come to an end because they have seen enough at the major-league level.
Voth’s 6.34 ERA in 2020 moved his career ERA to 5.11. His eight starts and good work in 2019 appear the aberration as opposed to the standard. The Nationals have team control of Voth for several years, but his spot on the 40-man roster may be more valuable to them. He could be released, then end up back in the minor leagues. He’s on this list because change is likely coming for him.
The left-handed reliever will spend the offseason in Seattle working to become the pitcher he was in late 2019 and prior. Doolittle is 34 years old. The Nationals need left-handed relief help. He wants to be back. They like him as a teammate and person. The question is if they think he can again be a competitive pitcher.
Doolittle appeared to be on a path back to being an effective reliever before an oblique strain ended his season. Rizzo said he saw a pitcher heading in the right direction. He also said Doolttle was not a finished product. So, which do the Nationals think he will be?
Suzuki is a free agent. He turns 37 years old on Oct. 4. He remained solid at the plate as a backup catcher. However, his throwing (not helped by his pitchers) is among the worst in the league. Suzuki will need to decide if he wants to retire or try for a 15th season in a limited role.
Holt was signed out of desperation in the middle of the season. He helped his stock with some streaky hitting. There’s just not a spot for him on this 2021 roster. Someone will invite him to spring training. It’s just unlikely to be the Nationals.
The Nationals can release Elías and end what is a failed trade. Elías and Hunter Strickland were acquired at the 2019 trade deadline for three prospects. Strickland was released in spring training this year. Elías was again hurt this year (he injured his hamstring running to first in 2019 after being told not to swing at the plate). A left elbow flexor strain put him on the 60-day injured list this season. He was throwing at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg by its end. Those are probably the final pitches he throws for the organization.
One of the great comeback stories in recent memory, Barrett could be facing release following another, much less significant, injury. Barrett said in spring training he wanted to no longer be a comeback story, rather he wanted to be another pitcher trying to make it. By that measure, his appearances in the major leagues last year and this year indicate his stuff is not playing at the major-league level. This will be a tough decision because of the amount of respect everyone in the organization holds for Barrett. But, business always wins in sports.