Two years is a long time in baseball.
Two years ago, Victor Robles was the #25 prospect… in the Nationals organization. Brady Aiken was the most recent #1 overall pick, and Trea Turner was the most recent #13 overall pick.
Two years ago, according to FanGraphs, Phil Hughes was a top-5 pitcher in baseball, and Anthony Rendon was a top-five hitter. The reigning saves leader was Fernando Rodney.
Two years ago, Doug Fister and Aaron Barrett were the #3 starter and setup man, respectively, for the division champion Nationals. Today, they’re both unsigned on Opening Day.
A common refrain this offseason is that the Nationals’ window will close in two years. After the 2018 season, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy will be free agents. Max Scherzer will be 34. Tanner Roark will be 32. The Nats who are set to power the 2017 team to contention will be free agents or over the hill in 2019.
Even for the reasons its proponents argue, this theory is flawed. Harper is far from essential to the Nationals’ success: They missed the playoffs in his otherworldly 2015 season, and cruised to 95 wins when he was merely ordinary in 2016. Ditto Murphy, who was stellar but far from solely responsible for the Nationals’ success last year. Scherzer and Roark may also decline, but a nosedive to irrelevance would be a surprise.
As much as players are likely to decline, others are strong candidates to improve. Turner will be 26 and under team control for four more years. Joe Ross and Koda Glover will also be just 26. Robles and Erick Fedde will be major leaguers, with Juan Soto not far behind. Adam Eaton and Stephen Strasburg will be 30, still firmly in their primes. And thanks to the heavy deferrals on the Strasburg and Scherzer contracts, the team only has $57 million committed for 2019, with 4/5ths of its lineup and 3/4ths of its infield already accounted for.
But the aim of this article isn’t to argue that the 2019 Nationals will be title contenders, though they seem well positioned. The examples given above demonstrate that predicting what a team will look like in two years is a fool’s errand. There’s simply no point in saying the 2019 Nationals won’t contend, because it’s nearly impossible to predict what that team will look like.
In 2019, Robles could be an All-Star center fielder, or he could be a bust. Pedro Severino could be the starting catcher, or he could be a career minor leaguer. The Nationals’ #25 prospect now is top international signee Yasel Antuna; he could be a premier prospect or a name you’ll never hear again. Scherzer could maintain his ace form, or he could fall so far the Nationals have to debate whether his contract means they need to keep him in the rotation.
It all feels so simple now, as we project simple aging curves for the current Nats. Even by doing that, the Nationals should be contenders after Harper hits free agency. But baseball doesn’t work like that. The 2019 Nationals are going to look a lot more different than you could possibly imagine, for better or for worse. After all: You can’t predict baseball.Tags: Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, Koda Glover, Max Scherzer, Nationals, Nats, Pedro Severino, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Washington Nationals, Yasel Antuna