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Young talent like Juan Soto are key to Nationals’ return to winning

Catcher Keibert Ruiz looks like a keeper, but Bell, Gray and Garcia are tougher calls. And can the team afford Soto?

The Washington Nationals have the worst record in the major leagues. If they can afford to keep Juan Soto, above, he would be an important part of getting the team back in full swing. (Nick Wass/AP)
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When a pro team is not very good, the most important question it must ask is: Which players on its roster will still be on the team when it starts winning again?

The Washington Nationals are not very good. Their record is 31-63 (31 wins, 63 losses), the worst in the major leagues. So the Nats have to ask that important question. Especially as the trade deadline (August 2) approaches.

First, the team has to realize it can’t count on older players such as Yadiel Hernandez and Nelson Cruz. In a few seasons when (hopefully) the Nats are better, these veterans may be too old to help.

The Nats have to develop young players with talent. Luckily, they have some.

Juan Soto (23 years old) is a rare combination of hitting skills. Soto has power, but he also gets on base a lot. Soto is looking to earn a lot of money when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2024 season. He recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract that the Nationals offered, according to The Washington Post and other baseball reporters. If the Nationals can afford to keep him, he is exactly the kind of young talented player a team has to have to get better.

Keibert Ruiz (23) shows potential at catcher in his first full year in the majors. Ruiz is hitting about the league average but has thrown out 16 runners trying to steal bases and picked off four more. He looks like a long-term solution behind the plate and definitely a keeper.

It may be too early to tell if Luis García (22) is another keeper. García has looked shaky at shortstop making too many errors for a big leaguer. While he has only 500 or so at-bats in the majors, he seems to be getting more comfortable at the plate.

Starting pitcher Josiah Gray (24) has had an up-and-down 2022 season. The young right-hander has had some rough starts but at other times looked unhittable. His 7-6 record and 4.4o ERA is a bit worse than the league average, but he is improving. If Gray stays healthy (always a question with pitchers), he could become a valuable piece of the Nats puzzle.

I’m not as sure about center fielder Victor Robles (25). He has had more than 1,300 at-bats over several seasons and is still a below-average hitter. Robles is an exciting fielder with a strong arm, but if he doesn’t improve at the plate, he won’t have a future with the team.

Josh Bell (30 in August) is a tough call. I love Bell’s solid hitting, and he seems to be a terrific teammate. Still, he will be 32 or 33 when the Nats start getting better. I hope the team keeps him, but I can see why the team may trade him for younger players.

The Nats are struggling. To become a winner again, the team has to answer the important question of which players to keep and which to let go.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 kids sports books, including 10 about baseball.