Mike Rizzo contends “the periodicals” are wrong. The Nationals’ farm system is not the worst in the major leagues. The talent -- opening with recently drafted starting pitchers -- is ample, Rizzo claims. Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Seth Romero, these are the next batch of arms to work on South Capitol Street and carry a pitching-focused organization.
They need them to be. The farm system requires a full reboot after several pieces were moved out as the Nationals climbed toward the 2019 World Series title. The process is not uncommon. Need bullpen help when contending? Out go a couple prospects. Need an everyday outfielder? A trio of starting pitchers are expelled. Simultaneously filling the cupboard and win column is the goal of every upper-echelon franchise.
It’s also difficult. Money spent isn’t restricted to the major-league payroll. Cash concerns in draft slot payments, international signings and all the production that eventually nets the players in those spots runs the meter, too.
So, the Nationals sit with a farm system that they are attempting to restock. Luis García is in the major leagues, likely to stay. Juan Soto and Victor Robles are entering year four. Carter Kieboom is essentially untradeable after two downtrodden spells in the major leagues.
Which puts the Nationals in a rough spot when it comes to considering trades this offseason. Anyone they could put in a deal from the major-league level they have to retain. Who would possibly be traded from their known quantities? Yan Gomes? Can’t. No backup. Soto, Robles, Trea Turner? Of course not. Any of the top three starters? Nope. Any of the back three in three in the bullpen? Negative.
Scanning the aforementioned farm system shows a similar conundrum. Cavalli, Rutledge, Romero, even Mason Denaburg just arrived. The Nationals need to hit on one, if not two, in order to have ample money when it comes time to retain Turner (a free agent in 2023) or Soto and Robles (free agents in 2025). Max Scherzer comes off the books after 2021 -- barring an extension. By then, if next season is even close to normal, one of the young starters should be receiving a hard look for a rotation spot. And they will cost roughly $34 million less.
What the Nationals have, they need. There is no surplus at either level. They are not sitting in a position of strength to compile a trade for a new outfielder or third baseman. They don’t have an established prospect in a positional logjam. The latest MLB Pipeline ranking of the top 100 MLB prospects included zero players from the Nationals. Low-level trades are always possible. An impact deal? It’s doubtful this offseason. As Rizzo often says, you have to give something to get something. And they have almost nothing to give.