The Nationals, coming off a World Series championship in 2019, were colossal disappointments in 2020. A certain amount of drop-off had to be expected when they lost Anthony Rendon to free agency, but finishing in last place in the division was not what most folks thought was going to happen last season. Unfortunately, a confluence of bad luck with injuries, particularly to Stephen Strasburg, and an aging core outside of Juan Soto ended up taking its toll. Compounding matters is that young players like Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom, despite showing flashes, did not step in to help shoulder the offensive load.
While we still don’t really know what the rotation will look like with Strasburg’s injury history starting to add up, Patrick Corbin having a down season for him, and Max Scherzer actually looking human as his career winds down, the Nationals’ offense was going to have to improve for them to have a chance in the short term.
Today’s move is certainly a step towards that end.
First baseman Josh Bell has been traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Washington Nationals, a source tells ESPN. Two young pitchers headed back to Pittsburgh.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 24, 2020
Eddy Yean and Wil Crowe for Bell is the deal— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 24, 2020
For the Nationals, this was a chance to buy low on a guy that could be a difference-maker on offense. While 2020 was not kind to Bell with a .669 OPS, he is just a year removed from a campaign that, at least early on, saw him on several short lists for MVP consideration. In 2019, he posted a .277/.367/.569 line with 37 home runs. It is worth noting that his first half of 2019 was better than the second half, but a guy with that much potential is, at least in the eyes of the Nationals, worth the gamble.
For the Pirates, you would normally think that the return for a player of Bell’s caliber would be more than a couple of mid level pitching prospects. Yean is a 19 year old international signee with some real upside, but who hasn’t played organized baseball above rookie ball yet. Crowe is a former second rounder, but who has struggled in the upper minors as well as in his brief look in the majors as well. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this appears to be another case of them waiting to long to trade a guy away as Bell’s bad 2020 season hurt his market. That plus a crowded 1B/DH slugger market and that he is going to make real money in his last two years of arbitration ultimately meant that the Pirates ended up with very little as they watched another talented player head elsewhere.