For the first time since the Senators in 1933, there is a Washington-based team in the World Series. The Washington Nationals clinched the first National League pennant in franchise history with a of the Cardinals in the NLCS. They will face either the Astros or Yankees in the World Series -- stream all games via fuboTV (Try for free).
Like every team, the Nationals were assembled through all sorts of different methods. No team is built exclusively through the draft, or trades, or free agency. It's not possible. Successful teams acquire talent through every avenue possible. Here is Washington's 2019 WAR breakdown via the Baseball Gauge:
• Free Agency: 14.6 WAR (4th most in MLB)
• Draft: 13.8 WAR (10th)
• Trades: 9.7 WAR (13th)
• International Free Agency: 8.0 WAR (4th)
• Other: -0.4 WAR (26th)
The Nationals have crushed it in free agency. They've also done very well at the top of the draft, and have landed several key players on the trade market. Also, Washington signed at least one franchise player as an international free agent, possibly two. Let's take a deeper look at how the Nationals built the roster that carried them to the 2019 World Series.
In a perfect world teams would draft and develop their entire 25-man roster and never spend money on free agents or give up players in trades. That world does not exist. Not even close. The draft remains the best (and most cost effective) way to acquire talent and the Nationals have three impact first round picks on their roster.
Anthony Rendon was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2011 draft going into the draft season. A severe ankle injury in 2010 and a shoulder injury in 2011 took a bite out of his free agent stock at Rice, however, and caused him to slip to the Nationals and the No. 6 pick. The five players taken ahead of Rendon:
- Gerrit Cole, Pirates
- Danny Hultzen, Mariners
- Trevor Bauer, Diamondbacks
- Dylan Bundy, Orioles
- Bubba Starling, Royals
Hultzen was a quality prospect in his own right, but I remember the Mariners passing on Rendon to take Hultzen was a "what are they doing???" moment. Fortunately for the Nationals, the injuries caused Rendon to slip a bit, and he fell into their laps. Now he is on the very short list of the game's best players and a dominant two-way star who is the centerpiece of a World Series club.
In three years Stephen Strasburg made the jump from undrafted high schooler to the best pitching prospect in draft history, maybe even the best draft prospect ever. He improved by leaps and bounds at San Diego State to become a once-in-a-generation prospect. After some early career injuries, Strasburg has lived up to the hype -- he owns a career 3.17 ERA in nearly 1,500 regular season innings -- and has turned in gem after gem after gem in the postseason. The Nationals suffered through an ugly 59-102 season in 2008. As a reward, they were able to draft a prospect who's been one of the best pitchers in MLB for close to a decade.
If nothing else, Michael Taylor certainly looked the part out of his Florida high school in 2009. He was tall and lanky, a great athlete at shortstop, and the ball jumped off his bat. The Nationals rolled the dice in the sixth round, bought him away from the University of North Florida, and watched him develop into a solid MLB role player after shifting to center field. Chances are Taylor has already missed out on his opportunity to be Washington's center fielder of the future, but he is very much part of the present.
A three-year starter at the University of Washington, Austin Voth fell into the "possible starter but likely a reliever in pro ball" college pitcher bucket his draft year. Voth broke through late this season after going up and down the last two years and appears to be a legitimate relief weapon, though he's yet to appear in a postseason game. At age 27 and with over 400 career innings in Triple-A under his belt, I reckon Voth will get a chance to stick as a bullpen guy next year.
Goodness, the 2005 draft was stacked. Ryan Zimmerman was the first player ever drafted by the Nationals (i.e. not the Expos), with Washington making him the fourth pick in the country following a decorated career at the University of Virginia. The top of the 2005 draft was loaded:
- Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
- Alex Gordon, Royals
- Jeff Clement, Mariners
- Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
- Ryan Braun, Brewers
Others drafted in the first round that year include Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce. (Sorry again, Mariners fans.) Zimmerman's defense was more highly regarded than his bat during his draft year -- it's easy to forget now, but Zimmerman was a Gold Glove caliber third baseman in his heyday -- but he turned into a tremendous two-year player who was a starting big leaguer less than three months after being drafted.
At a time when other teams held back at the trade deadline because a wild-card berth wasn't enough of a reward, the Nationals went for it in July, and at least one of those moves paid big dividends. Add in a few high-profile additions in recent years and you wind up with massive trade success in Washington.
The Nationals desperately needed bullpen help at the 2017 trade deadline, so they snagged veterans Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in five-player trade with the Athletics. Going the other way were Blake Treinen and prospects Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse. Doolittle lost the closer's job late this season, but he's been very good overall with Washington, saving 75 regular season games with a 2.87 ERA in 135 innings. Giving up Luzardo, one of the top pitching prospects in the game right now, surely hurt, but Doolittle helped the Nationals to the World Series, and that's the goal.
Injuries limited Adam Eaton to 118 games from 2017-18, but he stayed healthy in 2019, and was an igniter near the top of the lineup. The Nationals gave up three well-regarded pitching prospects to acquire him, including 2019 breakout pitcher Lucas Giolito, though pitching is hardly an issue at Washington (Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were the other two pitching prospects in the trade). They dealt from a position of depth to bolster the lineup. It's probably not a coincidence the Nationals are making their deepest postseason run ever in Eaton's first healthy year with the team.
The Nationals swung two trades with the Mariners on deadline day, most notably acquiring lefty Roenis Elias for two prospects. A hamstring injury limited Elias to only three regular season innings with the Nationals, and he's yet to pitch in the postseason, but they do control him as an arbitration-eligible player through 2021, so this was not a rental. Fellow lefty Taylor Guilbeau, who went to Seattle in the trade, actually threw more innings with the Mariners down the stretch (12 1/3) than Elias did with Washington.
It was no secret the Indians were looking to shed payroll over the winter. As part of their effort to do so, they sent the all-around solid Yan Gomes to the Nationals for righty Jefry Rodriguez, outfield prospect Daniel Johnson, and a player to be named later who became infield prospect Andruw Monasterio. Gomes had a disappointing regular season but still appeared in 94 games and swatted 12 homers. He is 4 for 13 (.308) this postseason. Cleveland saved roughly $7 million in the trade.
What a pickup Daniel Hudson has been for the Nationals. They sent a Single-A pitching prospect to the Blue Jays for Hudson at the deadline and he allowed four earned runs in 25 innings after the trade. Hudson took over as closer when Doolittle got hurt, and, this postseason, he has four saves and has thrown 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Toronto turned a low-risk one-year contract worth $1.5 million into a prospect, so it was a nice deal for them. It's working out great for Washington too. Don't be surprised if the two sides agree to an extension early in the offseason no matter what happens in the World Series.
The rare Tanner for Tanner trade. In an effort to shift payroll, the Nationals sent impending free agent starter Tanner Roark to the Reds over the winter, and received hard-throwing but erratic relief prospect Tanner Rainey in return. Rainey spent some time in Triple-A during the regular season and walked 38 in 49 1/3 big league innings, but he's emerged as a bullpen force this postseason, including striking out three in two perfect innings in the NLCS. Roark made $10 million this year and Washington controls Rainey through 2024.
A good one for the "the Rays never lose a trade!" crowd. Technically, the Nationals acquired Trea Turner and righty Joe Ross from Tampa Bay for Steven Souza after the Rays acquired Turner from the Padres for Wil Myers. There was other stuff involved, but that's the core of the trade. Souza for Turner and Ross was the second move in a series of two trades that we might as well consider one big three-team trade. The details:
- Nationals acquire: Ross, Turner
- Rays acquire: Souza, Jake Bauers, Travis Ott, Burch Smith, Rene Rivera
- Padres Acquire: Myers, Jose Castillo, Ryan Hanigan, Gerardo Reyes
I would not trade Turner for the other 10 players combined right now. He is a dynamic game-changing force atop the lineup who provides power (19 homers), speed (35 steals in 40 attempts), and solid defense. Turner is only 26 and the Nationals control him as an arbitration-eligible player through 2022. What a stud. What a trade.
(Aside:. Turner was included in the three-team trade as a player to be named later because the Padres drafted him only a few months earlier, and players could not be traded until one year after signing their first pro contract. Turner played in San Diego's farm system while waiting for a year to pass so he could be named in the trade. Now players can be traded six months after signing their first pro contract. It's referred to as the "Trea Turner rule" throughout baseball.)
Generally speaking, free agency is the least efficient way to acquire talent in terms of cost vs. production. But, when you're a World Series contender like the Nationals and you have roster holes (and gobs of money), sometimes throwing cash at the problem is the best way to fix things. Several key Nationals players were acquired on the open market.
Every National League team needs a good left-handed bench bat, and Matt Adams has been that player for the Nationals the last two years. Adams slugged 20 homers in 333 plate appearances this season while filling in for the injured Zimmerman at first base. Washington signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract last offseason, then let him go to the Cardinals on waivers in August 2018. The Nationals then brought Adams back this year on another one-year deal.
The elimination of August waiver trades makes it difficult to upgrade the roster late in the season. That's why the Nationals pounced on Asdrubal Cabrera after the Rangers released him on August 3. Adding a veteran switch-hitting presence who can play multiple infield positions is never a bad move. That's depth you like to have. Cabrera hit .323/.404/.565 in 38 regular season games with the Nationals and they only had to pay him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum (Texas was on the hook for the rest of his $3.5 million salary).
The pitching prize of last offseason. At least three teams (Nationals, Phillies, Yankees) wined and dined Patrick Corbin over the winter, and despite making it clear he would like to play for his hometown-ish Yankees, New York wouldn't raise their offer and Corbin signed with the Nationals. I don't think he's upset about that now. Corbin threw 202 innings with 238 strikeouts and a 3.25 ERA during the regular season, and he's made two starts and three relief appearances this postseason. He's a horse doing whatever the team needs him to do in October.
The Nationals needed a second baseman over the winter, so they took a low-cost one-year flier on former 42-homer man Brian Dozier. Dozier started slowly before heating up, and finished the season with 20 homers in 482 regular season plate appearances. He's now an overqualified bench player, which is a great thing for the World Series bound Nationals. It's a luxury when you have quality veterans like Adams, Cabrera, and Dozier accepting their roles as part-time players.
Howie Kendrick, the 2019 NLCS MVP, had the first year of his two-year contract sabotaged by an Achilles injury that limited him to 40 games. He returned this year as a force, hitting .344/.395/.572 during the regular season before coming through with clutch hit after clutch hit in October. Washington signed Kendrick with the idea that he could be a high-end utility player. He's instead become an integral part of their offense.
If nothing else, Giants, and he served as a solid bench bat during the regular season, hitting eight homers in 204 plate appearances. Just another member of the Nationals top notch bench unit.. I don't get it myself, but I don't have to get it. All that matters is Nationals fans enjoy it. Washington signed Parra this summer after he had been released by the
Yet another scrap heap veteran. Like Cabrera and Parra, the Nationals signed Fernando Rodney after he'd been released by another team. In this case, that other team was the Athletics. Rodney threw 33 1/3 innings with a 4.05 ERA for the Nationals and, true to form, he had some outings that were disastrous and some outings where he looked like the best pitcher on the planet. He's struck out five in 2 2/3 scoreless innings this October. Rodney's still going strong at age 42.
The Nationals traded Roark for Rainey and then signed Anibal Sanchez to fill the rotation void. Sanchez reinvented himself with the Braves last season and found success after losing his velocity while with the Tigers. He gave the Nationals a 3.85 ERA in 166 regular season innings. This postseason Sanchez has allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings, and he flirted with a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLCS. Give me Rainey and Sanchez over Roark any day of the week. Nice little series of moves by Washington.
At the time it was signed, Max Scherzer's monster seven-year contract was the second richest pitching contract in baseball history, and it remains one of the three largest ever. Here are the largest pitching contracts in MLB history according to total guarantee:
- David Price, Red Sox: 7 years, $217 million (signed December 2015)
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: 7 years, $215 million (signed January 2014)
- Max Scherzer, Nationals: 7 years, $210 million (signed January 2015)
- Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks: 6 years, $206.5 million (signed December 2015)
- Justin Verlander, Tigers: 7 years, $180 million (signed March 2013)
Scherzer's contract includes heavy deferrals and the $210 million will be paid out across 14 years. (MLB and MLBPA calculated the present day value of the contract as $185 million for luxury tax purposes.) The Nationals are going to be paying him until 2028 even though the deal expires in 2021. I doubt they mind. Scherzer has been the best pitcher in baseball the last few years and has won two Cy Young awards during the contract.
Nicknamed Kurt Klutch for his heroics as an amateur with Cal State Fullerton and Team USA, Kurt Suzuki is in his 13th big league season and has taken over as Washington's primary catcher this October. The veteran backstop chipped in 17 homers in 309 plate appearances during the regular season and remains a dangerous hitter at his position. The Nationals remade their catching corps over the winter with Gomes and Suzuki, giving them a quality veteran tandem.
International free agency
There are two ways for teams to acquire amateur talent: the draft and international free agency. The Nationals scout Latin America very well and have turned out quality players to use on their roster and as trade chips for years and years now, and the fruit of that labor is front and center on the 2019 team.
Signing bonuses will tell you everything you need to know about an international free agency. The bigger the bonus, the more the team expects from the player. The Nationals landed Victor Robles for a mere $225,000 out of the Dominican Republic back in the day, which suggests they viewed him as a legitimate prospect but not a future star. He quickly developed into an elite prospect, however, and is now the team's everyday center fielder. Robles is a top notch defender who is still developing his offensive game. He's a good one. A real good one.
Juan Soto signed out of the Dominican Republic and was considered the best pure hitter in the 2015-16 international free agent class, but I'm not sure even the Nationals expected him to be this good, this soon. Soto reached the big leagues as a 19-year-old last season -- he played only eight games above Single-A before his call-up (all eight at Double-A) -- and he's had a historic start to his career. He's a bona fide middle of the order masher with 56 homers and a career .403 on-base percentage already. A superstar, through and through.
It's not often a waiver claim becomes a key contributor, but the waiver wire is loaded with useful depth players each year. Spare bullpen arms, bench players, guys like that. The Nationals had one waiver claim on their NLCS roster.
As part of their midseason bullpen makeover, the Nationals claimed journeyman righty Javy Guerra off waivers from the Blue Jays. Guerra threw only 14 innings with Toronto before being cut loose. With the Nationals he threw 53 2/3 innings with a 4.86 ERA as a low-leverage mop-up man. An ugly stretch in July and August (16 runs in 14 innings) skews his overall numbers. Guerra has yet to appear in a game this postseason but was on the NLCS roster.
Those 25 players above made up the Nationals' roster for the NLCS. Several other players spent time with Washington this year -- in some cases they spent the entire season on the big league roster -- and helped get the club to the postseason, but are not expected to be on the World Series roster. Here are the Nationals' remaining notables and how they were acquired.
Thanks to Kendrick's Achilles injury, Wilmer Difo spent much of last season as the Nationals everyday second baseman. The slick fielder didn't impress much with the bat and spent most of this season in Triple-A. Difo is a career .250/.311/.352 hitter in over 1,000 big league plate appearances with seven defensive runs saved. He signed with Washington as an international amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic almost a decade ago.
Since holding the No. 1 pick in back-to-back years in 2009 (Strasburg) and 2010 (Bryce Harper), the Nationals have not picked high in the draft often, so they tend to go after the best available talent even when it comes with risks. In Erick Fedde's case, he was a projected top-10 pick who needed Tommy John surgery his draft year at UNLV, causing him to slip in the draft. He did not throw his first professional pitch until two years after being drafted. Fedde has been an up and down depth arm the last three years. He owns a career 5.39 ERA and appeared in 21 games for Washington this year.
The Nationals signed Jeremy Hellickson to a minor league contract last year and got some nice work out of the veteran journeyman (3.45 ERA in 91 1/3 innings). They brought him back on a guaranteed one-year contract this year and a shoulder injury ended his season in May. Hellickson allowed 31 runs in 39 innings before the injury.
Ross came over with Turner in that big three-team trade with the Padres and Rays a few years ago. His career got off a very promising start a few seasons ago, but Tommy John surgery threw a wrench into things in 2017, and Ross is now struggling to carve out a role with the big league team. He threw 64 innings with a 5.48 ERA as a swingman in 2019.
The Nationals acquired Elias and Hunter Strickland in two separate trades with the Mariners at the deadline. A Double-A pitching prospect went to Seattle for Strickland, who allowed 12 runs in 21 innings after the trade. He allowed four runs, including three homers, in two NLDS innings before being dropped from the NLCS roster.
Prior to the midseason bullpen overhaul righty Wander Suero spent a lot of time as Washington's primary setup man. He finished the season with a 4.54 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings, and was on the NLCS roster one day as Hudson's paternity list replacement. The Nationals signed Suero as an amateur player out of the Dominican Republic.