As we approach August 1, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
Washington Nationals: 51-36, 1st in the NL East
One year removed from being World Series favorites, the Washington Nationals appear to be delivering on the promise of last year.
After what can only be described as a disappointing season, the Nationals didn’t have a particularly impressive offseason either. They replaced Matt Williams with Dusty Baker. Anyone but Williams seemed to be a win at the time, and Baker has definitely delivered; but even that hiring didn’t come without controversy.
It’s funny what a spot in first place will do for a team though, as all of that seems like a distant memory. The clubhouse seems to be in order, the stars are performing well, and the apparent holes in the roster seem much harder to locate.
The roster is far from perfect though, so what might the Nationals do going forward?
What moves have they made so far?
The Nationals have yet to make a substantial splash on the in-season market, though they have made a couple small moves.
Perhaps the biggest move the Nationals have made this season was entirely in-house by demoting Michael Taylor. Despite offering substantial defensive value, since being called up for the first time in 2014, Taylor has slashed .226/.278/.362 in 757 plate appearances. By wRC+, he’s hitting 31 percent below the league average.
Baker doesn’t expect Taylor will be at Triple-A for any length of time:
“That's not the move that we really wanted to make really, but we though it might help Michael to go down and play and he can be back in ten days."
And he has shown flashes of brilliance at times. In June, Taylor slashed .310/.355/.500 including two homers and five doubles in his 62 plate appearances.
On the trade front, the Nationals shipped Brendan Ryan to the Los Angeles Angels. More of a desperation move from the Angels than anything, this move seems pretty inconsequential on the Nationals’ side.
The team has also added the freshly-DFA’d Mat Latos on a minor-league deal. Latos is just three seasons removed from being one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. And who was his manager back then? None other than Baker, the current Nationals manager. While recapturing Latos’ 2012 or 2013 form seems like a stretch, the 28-year old right-hander could bounce back to a relatively competitive level.
Furthermore, taking a low-cost and low-risk shot at a pitcher with major-league experience at this point in the season seems like a smart move. Even if the Nationals don’t need him on the big club at any point during the season, moves like these never hurt a team’s chances.
Are they buyers or sellers?
This one is about as easy as they come, the Nationals will most definitely be buyers come deadline time. Where it gets more interesting is who they will be able to offer to teams in exchange.
With Lucas Giolito on the major-league roster, and Trea Turner more-than ready to join him, those two names will likely be off the table. Perhaps the team’s position depth at the middle-infield spots could make Turner available, but that would be a blockbuster, and there’s no real sign of a blockbuster deal forming this early in rumor season. Then again, the Troy Tulowitzki deal of last season took many by surprise, and the market has yet to heat up.
More likely though, the Nationals will make some of their farm depth available—of which they have plenty. Outfield lefty Andrew Stevenson is currently stationed at Double-A Harrisburg and is still just 22 years old. He got called up from High-A earlier this season and could represent the type of player a rebuilding team would be looking for.
The aforementioned Taylor could also become a trade chip. He’s been in somewhat of a platoon with Ben Revere throughout the season, so perhaps his name could get added to the rumor mill as well. If one was performing above league average, it might be an easier decision on which to keep and which to sell. Unfortunately, since coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays for Drew Storen, Revere has performed even worse than Taylor, though has also dealt with some injury issues. Either way, no roster should carry two below average center fielders, especially when you consider who the Nationals are likely targeting.
Who will they target?
The Nationals have been tied to one name in particular that helps compound the extra outfielder issue explained above, and that is Jay Bruce.
The Reds outfielder is one of the most likely names to continue popping up in rumors and find a new home before August. What helps the Reds’ decision even more is that Bruce’s stock may be at one of its highest points. By wRC+, Bruce is hitting 21 percent better than the league average this season over his 331 plate appearances. Bruce ranks fifth among outfielders by ISO and is the top lefty.
From a Nationals’ perspective, there are some problems with acquiring Bruce. First off, he is a bad defender and making him a designated hitter is obviously impossible in the National League. Second, the corner outfield spots are currently held down by Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and neither of them are viable candidates to play center field. Cramming Bruce into a Nationals outfield could be a tricky proposition then.
Prior to the season beginning, the Nationals were thought to be candidates for the Jonathan Lucroy sweepstakes as well. Luckily for them, the need for a catcher has substantially diminished after Wilson Ramos has become one of the best hitters in all of baseball. By wRC+, Ramos ranks 10th in all of baseball in generating offense. In fact, he’s roughly equivalent to Daniel Murphy’s level of production, but with catching equipment on.
Washington is also expected to target relief help, despite having Jonathan Papelbon currently in the closer role. The club has long been connected to Yankees relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, who are the top two relief arms available this winter.
The Nats are unlikely to part with Turner for a top arm at this point, but could dangle Taylor in talks.
While Bruce seems like a good bet to move—and a tantalizing bat for the Nationals to add—the Nationals could turn their efforts elsewhere. Improving on their center field situation seems to be their number one priority, though options remain scarce this early on in the trade season.
The Nationals currently boast the best bullpen in the National League by FIP. While Shawn Kelley has been excellent, it has been a collectively team effort, with no reliever performing at an especially elite level which makes the feat even more impressive. While the market for relievers always seems to materialize at the trade deadline, the Nationals may even get to sit out of that exchange, or at least target the lower profile players that subsequently come at a lower cost as well.