In a development that few could have seen coming heading into the 2018 season, it appears possible that the Nationals could become sellers at the trade deadline (at least on a limited basis), according to a report from Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan on Thursday:
Sources: The Washington Nationals have started discussions with teams to gauge interest if they decide to sell. Of particular interest are Kelvin Herrera, Shawn Kelley and Ryan Madson, three free-agent-to-be relievers. Nats are telling teams they’ll know by end of weekend.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 26, 2018
Kelvin Herrera, Shawn Kelley, and Ryan Madson are all free agents following this season, and it’s extremely unlikely that Washington will tender any of them a qualifying offer, which will be somewhere in the range of $17-18 million this winter. It’s possible that the Nationals will get back into the playoff race at some point — there’s a good argument to be made that they’re the most talented team in the National League, after all — but for now, they sit at 50-51, 7.0 games out of the NL East lead and 5.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card spot, so it’d be crazy if they didn’t at least give some thought to selling at the deadline.
Herrera, 28, is likely to be the most valuable of those three relievers at the deadline — the Nationals gave up two top-30 prospects (Kelvin Gutierrez and Blake Perkins) plus a complex-league lottery ticket (Yohanse Morel) to acquire him from the Royals just over a month ago, and it’s hard to imagine his value has diminished a ton since then. He’s been somewhat inconsistent since arriving in D.C., but his numbers for the year — a 1.83 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 41 appearances — are still extremely good.
The 37-year-old Madson would likely fetch a decent amount of value because of his prior track record and vast postseason experience, though he’s had a down 2018, posting a 4.79 ERA with a .293 opponent batting average, 31 strikeouts, and 15 walks over 35.2 innings.
Kelley, who has experienced a bounce-back in 2018 after a horrid 2017 campaign, would also be an interesting addition to a more viable contender’s bullpen. Over 33 games, the veteran right-hander has a 2.67 ERA while holding opponents to a .189 average, striking out 31, and walking just five over 30.1 innings.
All three are free agents following the season, though they are rather highly-paid in relation to most relievers: Madson is making $7.66 million, Herrera $4.48 million, and Kelley $5.5 million.
Obviously, if the Nationals become full-fledged sellers, one would think they also have to at least explore the possibility of moving Bryce Harper over the next five days. But with few contenders in major need of outfield help and Harper battling through a down season (by his standards), there’s a slight possibility that the value of the compensation the Nationals could get after offering Harper a qualifying offer and losing him in free agency would be greater than the value they’d get for him in a trade. Of course, with Harper being the face of the franchise, it’s also understandable if the Nationals want to maintain all possible leverage as they try to re-sign him — and that’d mean keeping him through the end of the season even if they’re out of the playoff race.
Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, and Matt Adams are all pending free agents as well and would be interesting trade candidates if the Nationals really want to go all-in as sellers. Gonzalez would likely leap to the top of the rental starter wish list if made available, while Murphy and Adams’ value might be more limited because there isn’t a huge amount of demand at their respective positions.