Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Nationals 2024 Roster Option status


Kieboom faces a critical spring. Photo via Federal Baseball

Honestly, this option status was more apropos when we talked about non-tenders last fall, or perhaps before thinking about what the team was going to do this off-season w/r/t free agency.

But, here we are. We’re at the beginning of spring training, the team has brought in a slew of players on one year or MLFA/NRI deals (including at least 10 MLFA veteran relievers) and for those on the 40-man right now, options flexibility will be a big factor in what happens this spring.

So, lets do some options analysis to try to couch possible roster decisions that will have to be made by the end of March.

I’m using Roster Resource (now at Fangraphs) to drive this analysis. I used to keep track of options in a private XLS, but it was just way too tedious as compared to the pros at these sites. If they have it wrong, then I’ve got it wrong here. Also, here’s the Big Board which shows all the NRIs who might be pushing these guys for a job.

Current 40-man roster Players with Zero Options remaining

These non-5year veteran players either have to sick on the active roster going forward, or will face the dreaded DFA/outright if they need to be demoted off the active roster. I’ll list them in order of most likely to get DFA’d this spring to least likely:

  • Carter Kieboom. Kieboom’s time with the team seems like it has come to an end. For the second straight off-season, instead of holding 3B empty for their former top prospect to own, the team has bought a one year veteran Free Agent to man the position. Candelario last year and Nick Senzel this year. If you’re an infielder and you’re not starting at the MLB level, then you need to be able to do one of a couple of things: 1) play middle infield (which Kieboom cannot), 2) be good defensively or be a fast runner (which Kieboom isn’t), 3) play outfield as well (which he never has), or hit well enough to man either 1B or DH (which he never has either). The team also bought itself a starting 1B in Joey Gallo and has an established DH in Joey Meneses. On top of THAT, the team has more than a couple big bopper NRI MLFAs who specialize in playing 1B/DH (Yepes, Diaz, Blankenhorn, Winker, Rutherford). None of this leaves Kieboom a ton of roster flexibility. I suppose he could try to play a corner outfield, but we’re set there too, with more OF options than we have positions honestly PLUS a slew of OF prospects coming up. I hate to say it, But Kieboom is in trouble. Save for an injury to Senzel or Gallo, or Kieboom hitting .450 this spring, I think he’s staring at a big career crossroads at the end of March.
  • Joan Adon, thanks to being added to the 40-man In November of 2020 despite only having gotten to Low-A by that point, now faces a pretty predictable situation. He’s 25, clearly needs more time in the minors, but is out of options and faces a pretty obvious roster crunch coming out of spring training. I mean, he was awful in the majors in 2022 and again in 2023. He wasn’t really that great in AAA either. He’s probably 7th on the starter depth chart (if that), and the team would have to dump a reliever they’d rather keep in order to protect him from being exposed to waivers. If there’s an injury to the projected starting 5 (Corbin, Grey, Gore, Williams, Irvin) he’ll be gifted the spot to save him, but it seems like an inevitability he gets DFA’d.
  • Jordan Weems shows what happens when you look slightly deeper into pitching stats. In 2023, his ERA went down to 3.62 but his FIP went way up to 4.90. His Hits/9 went down but his BB/9 went way up. His 2023 was probably smoke and mirrors, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he blew up in April after making the team and got DFA’d.
  • Luis Garcia, who is out of options because he was put on the 40-man way, way too soon and still doesn’t seem like the team is completely convinced he’s their long-term solution at 2B. But, they also seem set to go with him as the starter. But, they sent him down last year for a month for some reason (he was hitting .268 at the time even though he hit mostly .220 the first half of the season). So who knows. They didn’t guy a veteran 2B FA so his spot seems safe.
  • Tanner Rainey, who missed all of 2023 but was our highly effective closer in 2022, seems pretty unlikely to lose his spot if he’s healthy. The thing is, if he struggles in spring, they’ll just DL him and say, “post-TJ surgery recovery” or some nonsense, so he could go to AAA and work things out.
  • Ildemaro Vargas is the kind of utility player every manager wants: can play 6 positions, hits decently enough. His bat fell off a bit in 2023, and the team got itself a middle infielder in Rule5 in Nunez who now occupies one of the sports Vargas would be competing for. MLB benches these days basically are: a Backup C, two middle infielders, one spare outfielder, and one big bat who can rotate into 1B and DH (preferably lefty as well). So Is Vargas set for one of the two middle infield positions right now? Probably. The only other middle infielder NRI is Darren Baker, and i don’t think he’s ready for prime time. Also, not for nothing, the Nats extended Vargas in the middle of September, so clearly they’re not thinking of axing him.
  • Kiebert Ruiz: they gave him 8yrs/$50M and he’s the starting catcher; he’s not in any jeopardy of getting DFA’d irrespective of option status. So he’s least likely of the “zero options” guys.

Current 40-man roster players whose option status may/will impact their making the team.

  • Jake Alu: If Vargas and Nunez are your two middle infielder bench options, that likely shuts the door on Jake Alu being a regular on the active roster for a bit. He’s unable to play SS; he can play 2B, 3B and LF. He also got a long look last year and didn’t really hit (.226/.282/.289). I think he’s the dreaded 4-A guy, who will shuttle back and forth between AAA and MLB to cover in case of an injury to the 2B/3B starters. Maybe Nunez flops as a rule5 pick and gets returned and Alu sticks; we’ll see. That’s what spring training is for.
  • Jake Irvin: i’ll just put this here; if the team convinces themselves they need to keep Adon, Irvin has two options and could get sacrificed. I would be kind of shocked if this happens, since Irvin seems more likely to become a regular 4th/5th starter going forward than Adon, but the team has done something like this before with John Lannan making millions to pitch in Syracuse in 2012.
  • Jackson Rutledge seems like he’s 6th on the pecking order and should be a safe bet for AAA save injury. But, like with Irvin … if the team decides it wants to keep Adon, Rutledge will head north.
  • Cade Cavalli probably starts the year on the 60-day DL and may slot right into the MLB rotation when he’s ready irrespective of option status. But he’s got plenty of options if his rehab goes more slowly than expected and could hang in AAA for a while.
  • Drew Millas has plenty of options, but is 3rd out of 3 on the Catcher pecking order right now, and will be either the MLB backup or the AAA starter.
  • Thad Ward: last year’s rule5 roster gambit, can now safely be sent down since he’s officially “ours.” And he’s got plenty of options. My guess is that he goes to AAA and gets converted back to starting. Which is what the team should do with him, since our starting pitching prospect pipeline is so thin.
  • Alex Call and/or Jacob Young: so, assuming that Stone Garrett and Victor Robles are healthy and able from the get go (which may be a bad assumption given what we’re hearing about Garrett’s recovery from a broken leg last summer) one of these two gets dumped to AAA. Honestly, if they need someone to ride the pine in the majors i’d rather it be Call so that Young can play full time in AAA, but it may be the reverse. Both have options. If Garrett can’t go, look for Young to start in left and Call to be the MLB backup. Yes Davey Martinez said Young was “competing” with Robles for the starting CF job; i don’t believe that. I think the team wants Robles to earn the spot, hit .330 for 3 months, and get flipped to a contender in his walk year.
  • Relievers with options who sucked last year: Jose Ferrer (5.03 ERA), Mason Thompson (5.50 ERA), and Amos Willingham (6.66). They’ll all start in AAA unless someone gets hurt, and given the plethora of MLFA veteran arms the team has signed, these three guys are also at the top of my “next guy off the 40-man to get whacked” list just after the obvious DFA candidates discussed above. Thompson’s situation may work itself out; it seems like he may have a UCL injury that will send him to TJ and the 60-day DL.
  • The four arms just added: Herz, Parker, Henry, Brzycky: no real chance any of these four make the 25-man opening day roster. The AAA staff looks like it’ll be amazing this year.


  • No injuries to projected rotation in spring.
  • Adon waived.
  • Kieboom waived
  • Thompson TJ/60-day dl to open a roster spot
  • Weems makes opening day roster but is on short leash
  • Young makes opening day roster, Call to AAA.
  • At least one NRI bat and maybe two NRI arms make the team.

Written by Todd Boss

February 22nd, 2024 at 11:06 am

Posted in Nats in General

19 Responses to 'Nationals 2024 Roster Option status'

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  1. Thanks for putting this together! A follow up question: of the players who are out of options, have any of them been outrighted previously? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Kieboom and Adon were both DFA’d, clear waivers, and then are outrighted to AAA. This could happen to Weems and Garcia, too. While I’d be surprised if any of them were claimed on waivers, I wouldn’t worry that much about it.

    Of course, a player can only be outrighted once, so if the Nats called them up again later in the season they could not then move them back to the minors without the player having the right to choose free agency.

    John C.

    22 Feb 24 at 11:47 am

  2. Kieboom keeps telling us he’s not the answer, it’s about time to believe him. If it were my show, I’d ready to cut bait.

    I feel like he, Robles and Garcia are the “we’ll be okay after 2019” that didn’t happen, and between them and Strasburg’s arm falling off, that’s why the Lerners gave up on Soto and we’re enduring another year of replacement-level baseball.

    kevin r

    22 Feb 24 at 12:17 pm

  3. I don’t buy the narrative that Williams will be in the rotation. He certainly shouldn’t be, based on what he did the last half of 2023. He should be in the bullpen, where he should be joined by Adon. I think it is Will who has the numbers of how Adon absolutely falls off a cliff after three innings. (With Adon, Williams, Corbin, and a recovering Cavalli, the Nats have the grist to have paired three-inning for 40% of their rotation, but the current regime has never been inclined to think outside the box in such a manner.)

    Since the Nats haven’t spent any real money to improve the team for this season, I would absolutely have Irvin and Rutledge in the rotation. Time to find out what we’ve got in them. Cavalli replaces whoever is faltering more in June.

    I agree with John that Kieboom should easily be able to clear DFA/waivers, particularly at the end of the spring when teams are adding their NRI guys and have tight 40-man rosters. Between the two Adon would be more at risk of being snatched, but that’s unlikely.

    Darren Baker isn’t the competition for Vargas a little on down the road; Trey Lipscomb is. Or at least I hope he can be. They seem to think that Lipscomb can play a little shortstop, at least in a pinch, and that makes him tremendously valuable. Let’s hope that he will hit enough to have some MLB viability.


    22 Feb 24 at 12:50 pm

  4. I say this every year in the fall: you’re much less likely to lose a guy in the Rule 5 draft than you are three years later when they’ve used up their options too soon and have to pass through waivers. I was very pleased to see that they didn’t protect Lara this past year, as his profile is quite similar to Adon’s when they protected him.

    And it’s not just burning options, it’s extra pressure on the players. You better believe the opposing minor-league teams know who is on the 40-man. It’s an extra feather in your cap to strike out Antuna or de la Rosa, or clobber an Adon pitch.

    The other part of the story is that they completely deluded themselves about the quality of some of those guys. That wasn’t the case with Kieboom, who advanced through the minors smartly and impressively, right up until his extra-base power mysteriously disappeared in the second half at Fresno in 2019. They figure you out in this game, and if you can’t make counter corrections, you’re in trouble, no matter your prospect status. (Just ask Senzel and Robles.)


    22 Feb 24 at 1:19 pm

  5. I don’t disagree with anything here, but I’d expect to see a few more players reviewed here, in particular, Riley Adams. He had a surprisingly good 2023, but I’m not convinced it was supported by more than just some good luck. If he starts ST or the season looking like the 2022 version of himself, with one option still remaining, I think he could see a quick swap of places with Millas.

    Another player worthy of a bit of reflection, and I’ll admit I’m being naive here given Rizzo and Martinez’s lust for good “guys” instead of good “baseball players” (see: Parra, Vargas, D. Smith, Chavis, etc.), is Nick Senzel. I know we just committed 25% of our offseason budget to him (meanwhile objectively better baseball player, Gio Urshela, just signed for 25% less than Senzel), but I cannot emphasize this enough: he’s a very bad baseball player. Everyone has – fairly – written off Kieboom, who hasn’t performed close to expectations since reaching the majors in 2019, hitting a putrid .201/.297/.298 while playing 3B.
    You know who else everyone has written off, and hasn’t performed close to expectations since reaching the majors in 2019, hitting a putrid .214/.273/.298 while playing 3B? You guessed it, Nick Senzel.

    To Senzel’s credit, he hit a bit better when playing other positions, and his defence at 3B is at best average, compared to Kieboom’s poor defense. But I still cannot see the upside here at all, and I would hope that come late May, and Senzel is hitting .231/.296/.306 (his stat line from 2022), that Rizzo is willing to admit a mistake, and call up Alu (or dark horse: Morales).

    I also wouldn’t assume the rotation to start the season to be: Gray, Gore, Corbin, Williams, +other SP (Irvin, Adon, Rutledge). As KW has been pointing out for a while, Williams was awful and has always been awful as a SP. He found success for a short period of time as a long reliever. Again, this is probably more wishful thinking than anything else, but the Nats should shift Williams and Corbin to relief. We have many seasons of evidence to know that both are bad SPs, but maybe they could be good relievers? Since they’re both in the last year of their contract (finally), that could yield some trade value come July. And if it doesn’t work out, no loss. They’re already both statistically two of the worst SPs in MLB (along with Gore, Irvin and Gray, but let’s ignore that for the time being). Some combination of Irvin, Rutledge, Cavalli, Adon, Zach Davies and Spencer Watkins are also dependable for an ERA/FIP between 5.00 and 6.00, like Corbin and Williams. But these guys are vets and owed a big chunk of money, and the Nats don’t tend to try new things with these kind of guys. Still, I’m cautiously hopeful that with their contracts expiring soon, they might be more creative, or at least have a shorter leash for the two of them.


    23 Feb 24 at 8:28 am

  6. I keep forgetting that Corbin is in the last year of his contract. Let’s all cross our fingers and toes that he can be good enough to at least bring a lottery ticket in return at the trade deadline. (We wouldn’t have won the World Series without him, and may not have even made the playoffs, but it’s been a long slog since then. I thought at the time he was on the FA market — and with no idea that the Nats would pursue him — that his would be a risky contract based on about 1.5 really good seasons.)

    I share the head-scratching over any dependence whatsoever on Senzel. We hear that he has good platoon splits, but he “hit” .164/.240/.257 against RHP in 2023. That’s flat unplayable, against 80% of the pitching that you’re going to see. (Kieboom same problem, career MLB against RHP: .180/.277/.276.)


    23 Feb 24 at 11:42 am

  7. While it’s fun to imagine Corbin being good enough to get a lottery ticket at the deadline, I think that it’s easy for fans to underestimate the value of a guy who makes 33 starts and pitches 180 innings to a team that is trying to sort out young pitchers on innings limits and those recovering from injury. Is that value $35M (on his back-loaded contract)? Oh heavens no. But punting Corbin doesn’t save that money. The question is whether having Corbin on the roster enables them to bring the kids along at a safer pace while also covering potential injuries.

    John C.

    23 Feb 24 at 1:06 pm

  8. True. And it would be a very small lottery ticket anyway unless the Nats pick up some of that salary, which mostly defeats the purpose.

    We also don’t know when Cavalli will be back, and what his innings limit will be.

    It will be interesting to see what Herz, Parker, and Ward look like at AAA. None is a sure thing, and all may end up as relievers, but if Rutledge makes the big-league roster and Adon doesn’t clear waivers, that’s the next level of “prospect” starter depth.


    23 Feb 24 at 3:08 pm

  9. I agree with John C: Corbin’s value at this point is almost entirely in being able to take the ball every fifth day for 180 innings of 5th starter or worse-than-5th-starter production. There’s no reason for the Nats to use him in the bullpen–it’s not like there are many quality SP prospects knocking on the door. The hope is that he has a hot first half (or a hot six weeks right before the trading deadline) such that a playoff contender is willing to give up something for the stretch run. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, but it’s certainly possible.

    Williams should be in the bullpen. The games he starts will be days where I look for something else to watch on TV.


    26 Feb 24 at 10:57 am

  10. Interestingly, in terms of winning percentage, the Nats did better in Corbin’s 32 starts (15-17) and Williams’s 30 starts (14-16) then they did with other pitchers on the bump. Heck, the team was 5-5 in Adon’s ten starts. The only starting pitcher with whom the Nats had a winning record was Jackson Rutledge (3-1).

    John C.

    26 Feb 24 at 11:40 am

  11. I do not understand Williams over Irvin. I do not understand Williams at all, but certainly not him being a starter.

    Mike B

    27 Feb 24 at 11:47 am

  12. For all of you thinking Williams won’t be a starter in 2024 … i’ll give you 7 million reasons why he will.

    Its the same reason Corbin will be a starter in 2024. Because they’re paying him to do so. The team has no intentions of competing in 2024 (if they did, you’d see them actually signing relevant players). They know precisely where they are in the rebuild and spending FA dollars now would be wasted money. So instead we’ll watch these two clowns lose every 5th day until one of them gets hurt or its so unbelievably bad that the team finally cuts bait.

    Do I think Corbin and Williams are 2 of our 5 best starters? No.

    Do I want to see Corbin and Williams struggling to upper 5.00 ERAs and losing the team games every time they pitch? No.

    Do I want to see our rookie starters instead? Of course.

    But this is Baseball, and this is the Washington nationals. Nobody has a concept of sunk costs, anywhere. It’s the same reason Yasel Antuna hung around until he exhausted his minor league service time and the same reason Mason Denaburg is still on the roster. Baseball views signing bonuses and free agency committed dollars as “investments” instead of “sunk costs.” Always have.

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 24 at 8:46 am

  13. clowns? come on Todd, you’re better than that


    28 Feb 24 at 9:40 am

  14. I note that the team had a better record in the starts of both Corbin and Williams in 2023 than it did in the starts by Gore or Gray. The team was 15-17 in Corbin’s 32 starts, 14-16 in Williams’s 30 starts, 12-18 in Gray’s 30 starts, and 10-17 in Gore’s 27 starts. For the record, the team was also 11-13 in Irvin’s 24 starts, 5-5 in Adon’s ten starts, 1-4 in Kuhl’s five starts, and 3-1 in Rutledge’s four starts.

    I’m open to seeing Rutledge start in DC, especially over Williams. The rest of the next level (Adon; Herz; Ward; etc.) not so much. Also, the team is going to be managing innings for a lot of the kids (Rutledge only threw 119 innings across three levels last year, and that was the most he’s thrown in a season in his life; his previous high of 97 IP was in 2022), and someone has to throw those innings. Williams sucks as an innings eater (averages <5 innings/start) but there is value in Corbin making 32 starts and throwing 180 innings while the team brings along the kids.

    John C.

    28 Feb 24 at 12:07 pm

  15. It’s tilting at windmills to expect the Nats to not use Corbin as a starter. That’s all water under the bridge (to mix metaphors). Williams could charitably be described as a journeyman and isn’t owed such deference (or nearly as much money).

    Here’s the deal: the Nats are talking openly about wanting to be back in contention next year. (They’re deluding themselves if they think it’s this year.) If that’s the case, the year for pitching auditions in 2024, not 2025. Let’s find out what we’ve got in Irvin and Rutledge, and Cavalli and Henry at some point. I was surprised that Irvin held his own, so let’s see what he can do in a full season. I’m not all sold on Rutledge, but he has talent when he’s on, so let’s see what he’s got.

    And as John notes, there will be innings to go around. They’ll be careful with Cavalli (and Henry if he makes the majors at some point), Rutledge isn’t particularly stretched out, and Gore and Irvin aren’t that far removed from TJ.

    Not all will step forward. I’ll be surprised if the Nats can return to contention without adding a starter or two. The issue right now is to find out what they’ve got among the contenders.

    Or they beat next year’s rush and sign Snell and Montgomery now.


    28 Feb 24 at 5:54 pm

  16. Given the need to shuffle innings and the potential for injuries, I really don’t think that starting the season with Williams as the #5 starter is going to materially limit the Nats’ ability to test the kids. Gore, Gray, and Irvin are going to be in the rotation as long as they’re healthy (and unless/until Irvin turns into a pumpkin). Cavalli isn’t going to be ready until (best case) midseason. Even if everyone is healthy (unlikely) Williams will have either pitched himself into a trade (also unlikely) or pitched his way out of the rotation (more likely).

    If he stays healthy and shows much of anything, Rutledge is going to get plenty of chances this season. I mean, he got a call up last season despite the fact that he was (at best) meh at AAA (2-3 record, 4.44 ERA, 5.82 FIP, 1.500 WHIP, 7.82 K/9, 5.33 BB/9). He was really good at AA, so if they send him back to AAA to work on his control and command until an opening appears in the rotation I would understand.

    On Snell and Montgomery, I was surprised to discover that they are the same age. As in, they were born three weeks apart in December 1992. I had thought that Snell was younger, but he is actually older (by 23 days).

    John C.

    28 Feb 24 at 7:55 pm

  17. Rutledge didn’t look MLB-ready on Wednesday, against a mostly minor-league lineup. Sigh.

    I don’t know the answer to the starting pitch conundrum, but it sure seems like the most daunting issue to a successful rebuild. Everyone likes to talk about making “another Gio trade,” but let me know when we can pick up a 26-year-old All-Star hurler who is willing to sign a reasonable extension for the heart of his career and win 89 games for us.


    29 Feb 24 at 8:49 am

  18. FredMD: one def’n of a clown: ” a fool, jester, or comedian in an entertainment .” Is that an accurate assessment of the expecatation whenever they take the mound? maybe. 🙂 Ok, yes that was unnecessary.

    Todd Boss

    2 Mar 24 at 8:30 am

  19. FYI Mlppipeline dropped Nats 30 (along with rest of NL East) this morning.

    this is the final major pundit i’m waiting for (Fangraphs didn’t post til June last year), so i’ll recap their ranking, then post my own top 50, which I might actually expand to 60.

    Todd Boss

    4 Mar 24 at 11:17 am

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