At one point in the first half, the Washington Nationals were close to the top spot.
Then outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who had been carrying the team with an impressive power display, hurt his hamstring, and the team started to lose.
By the time the trade deadline rolled around, the Nats had decided to become sellers.
Seeing Trea Turner, one of the game’s premier shortstops, be flipped alongside Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers even though he had an additional year of control after 2021, was shocking.
Right now, Washington has, predictably, played poorly in the second half because the big league roster is extremely decimated.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Nats are tied with the Miami Marlins for the last position in the National League East, with a 58-81 record.
Soto Remains The Most Important Piece For The Nationals
The fact that the Nationals traded Turner should tell us that Washington doesn’t intend to compete in 2022, or at least that’s not the plan.
One can make the argument that the Nationals didn’t pay Turner to try and keep outfielder Juan Soto eventually.
They need to make sure that happens because things could go wrong.
The Nationals let Bryce Harper leave town because they needed the money for Anthony Rendon. The Nationals let Anthony Rendon leave town because they needed the money for Trea Turner. The Nationals let Trea Turner leave town because they need the money for Juan Soto … pic.twitter.com/WuJM7bJLfT
— Homer McFanboy (@HomerMcFanboy) July 30, 2021
Soto, a generational talent and perhaps the best pure hitter in the game (he is, at the very least, a top-five batter) currently leads the team in Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, with 4.8.
He is not known for his glove, but he can hold his own and is not a bad defender.
He is not known for his speed, yet he can move his feet and is not slow.
He is, however, considered a game-changing offensive player.
The 22-year-old slugger is hitting a fantastic .302/.449/.520, with 25 home runs, nine stolen bases, and significantly more walks than strikeouts.
He is a run-producing and on-base machine that will make sure the Nats have a great future if they are able to keep him for the long-term.
After 2021, Soto is controllable for three more years via arbitration.
He is going to start getting very, very expensive for Washington, but at least, without Turner and Scherzer on the payroll, they will have money to make a run at him.
If Soto is around, and Stephen Strasburg can get back to full health, the Nats have a good foundation.
The Supporting Cast
Strasburg is already signed to a long-term deal.
Washington’s return to contention will also depend on the young guns other than Soto.
The last two represent the return for Scherzer and Turner.
They are both big league-ready: Ruiz is a strong defensive catcher who has been enjoying a power spike this year, and while Gray has a 5.40 ERA, he has shown bat-missing ability.
Kieboom has crashed and burned in the majors before, but he has advanced this year.
His .248/.339/.400 line may not seem overly optimistic, but it isn’t a bad output and he should improve as he takes more major league at-bats.
After a couple of days to reflect, I'm excited about the @Nationals future. Looking forward to seeing how young guys like Kieboom, Garcia, Ruiz and Gray perform with consistent playing time
— Zach Gilleland (@ZachGillelandTV) July 31, 2021
The foundation is good enough for the Nats to have a shot at a return to contention around 2023 and 2024, especially if Soto remains a part of the future.