The Nationals are set to enter the 2021 season with World Series aspirations, hoping to compete in the tightly contested NL East with a revamped roster. But while Washington’s focus is on contending in the present, the futures of several key contributors remain in question.
Max Scherzer is heading into the final season of the seven-year, $210 million free agent deal he signed with the Nationals in 2015. The three-time Cy Young winner has expressed a desire to continue playing past his age-36 season. Even at his age, Scherzer will be an expensive signing. Nationals President and GM Mike Rizzo said on a Zoom call in December that extension talks have yet to begin.
“We haven’t had any substantive conversations about an extension for Max — to my knowledge,” Rizzo said. “That could be on the ownership level. To my knowledge, it hasn’t happened yet. When we get to spring training, when we get to see each other each and every day, that sometimes changes. But we will keep all our options open. Max is a Hall of Fame pitcher that has earned that respect.”
Washington is facing a few major extension decisions in the next few years with Scherzer (2021) and shortstop Trea Turner (2022) hitting free agency soon while Juan Soto (2025) should be considered a candidate for an extension at any time. Only Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin have guaranteed contracts past 2022, so there should be room for the Nationals to keep at least one or two of them.
In addition to Scherzer, the tandem that secured the final out of the 2019 World Series will hit free agency next offseason as well. Reliever Daniel Hudson and catcher Yan Gomes both signed two-year extensions with Washington after winning it all. They will each play integral roles for the Nationals this year — Hudson as a set-up man and Gomes as the starting catcher.
Hudson will be 34 this season and Gomes 33. They could be candidates to return to Washington on short-term deals, but that will likely depend on their performance in 2021. Given the opportunities they will have to be significant contributors, new deals for Hudson and Gomes can’t be ruled out.
The same goes for first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Returning to the team after opting out last season, Zimmerman has accepted a backup role behind Josh Bell while offering some right-handed power off the bench. Though injuries have plagued him throughout the back half of his career, the 36-year-old is still considering the possibility of playing beyond 2021 if he continues producing.
“If I can kind of settle into this role and do well this year, by no means does this have to be my last year,” Zimmerman said on a Zoom call in late-January. “At least, that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m not coming back to get a last at-bat in front of fans. I’m fine with how my career would’ve ended if I didn’t come back.”
Retirement crossed Zimmerman’s mind last season, but one thing is clear: He won’t be playing anywhere else. The career National has made it no secret that he plans to finish out his career in D.C. as long as the team still wants him. After that, it’s golf and dad duty.
Aside from the players signed to one-year deals such as Kyle Schwarber, Brad Hand and Jon Lester, the other National who could be playing his final year with the club is infielder Starlin Castro. Fans only saw him for 16 games last year before he broke his wrist, but manager Davey Martinez plans for Castro to be an integral part of his lineup as the starting second baseman.
However, Castro may not have the opportunity to play in Washington after that. The Nationals already have infield prospects Luis García and Yasel Antuna on the 40-man roster, with the former making MLB debut last year. Castro will have the chance to hold down an everyday job this season. There just aren’t many assurances for him beyond that.