As we approach July 31, 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: 39-32, 2nd in the NL East
The Nationals do not want to experience déjà vu again.
In four of the last six seasons, they have won the NL East, but lost in the NLDS. Falling short in this spot has made the Nationals, particularly general manager Mike Rizzo and company, go back to the drawing board again to figure out what to do in order to get over the hump in hopes of reaching their first NLCS since 1981 and ultimately win their first World Series in franchise history.
They’ve made player moves, they’ve developed homegrown talent, they’ve made coaching changes, they’ve won ballgames in the regular season, but these things have not added up to a deep postseason run — something the nation’s capital and its fans desperately want, especially after seeing the Washington Capitals winning the NHL Stanley Cup this year.
Which means that the Nationals are certainly going to be buyers this trade season. Heck, they already started buying in hopes of reaching their ultimate goal this year.
What moves have they made so far?
The Nationals made the first huge move of the trade season by acquiring reliever Kelvin Herrera from the Royals for prospects Blake Perkins, Kelvin Gutierrez, and Yohanse Morel. Herrera was one of the Royals’ biggest trade chips, if not the biggest one, this season. The 28-year-old right-hander had been outstanding for Kansas City this season, recording 14 saves in 16 chances while posting a 1.05 ERA, 2.62 FIP, and 7.71 strikeouts per nine innings. He was also an unsung hero as a middle reliever during the Royals’ run to the World Series title in 2015.
By bringing Herrera to D.C., the Nationals have what could be called a “super bullpen,” as they have Herrera, Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and closer Sean Doolittle. The Nats acquired Kintzler, Madson and Doolittle during the trade season last year, but adding Herrera and his experience should be beneficial to them as they try to beat out the Braves for the NL East and in the postseason.
Who (else) could they acquire?
The Nationals still have their eyes on starting pitchers, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on June 12 and Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post made the case for them after the Herrera deal. Janes said that because they did not give the Royals any of their top prospects, the Nationals have an “arsenal of appealing talent” that could help them land a starter to go with a rotation that features Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson and Tanner Roark.
With that being said, who would be a good fit for the Nationals’ staff?
Well, the Nationals first have to make sure whoever they want to acquire will not put them over the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold (their current payroll is $192.1 million, according to SpotTrac) and prevent them from trying to be a big player in trying to bring back Bryce Harper in free agency this winter. This means expensive arms like Cole Hamels ($23 million this year) is certainly out of the question, even after salaries are adjusted. However, the Nationals could look into acquiring the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin, Rays’ Chris Archer, and Reds’ Matt Harvey, as their adjusted salaries may be $5.5 million or under each by the time July 31 comes.
In addition to a starter, Rosenthal speculated that the Nationals would be a “perfect fit” for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. The reason for this is because Matt Wieters is out until around the All-Star break, he is a free agent after this season and the Nationals are one of the worst in the majors as far as production from the catcher spot. Plus, Realmuto is under team control through 2020.
The Nationals will make another move before the deadline strikes.
The Nationals will get a starter, but it will be on the cheap end. The idea of having a deGrom, Syndergaard or Archer on their roster is a long shot for a couple of reasons: 1) The Mets will unlikely deal one of their two top starters to a rival, even if they get the Nats’ top-tier prospects that would rejuvenate their farm system. 2) The Rays will unlikely trade Archer because he is under control through 2021 and he is currently struggling, which could hurt his trade value.
However, Corbin or Harvey makes sense because they are free agents after this season and the Nationals may not have to give up any of their top prospects. If they get quality production from either pitcher, the Nats could have a shot at getting over the hump of losing in the NLDS.