A Nationals crossroads; Strasburg to the DL; Is it time to sell?

The talk for weeks has been whether the Washington Nationals should be sellers leading up to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. The Nationals find themselves in 3rd place and 7.0 games behind the Phillies in the competitive NL East. While the Nationals have enough time to make up that margin, is it realistic? In essence, general manager Mike Rizzo has a chance to strategically trade pending free agents to rebuild for next year. While the Bryce Harper window is close to closing, the Nationals opportunity to rebuild looks to be a chance to come back stronger in 2019 if Rizzo makes the right moves.

What are the right moves? Right now it looks like the main needs are positioning the team for 2019 to fill their needs for a #3 pitcher, a starting catcher, 2nd baseman, and a left-handed first baseman. The good news is that Mike Rizzo has that left-handed first baseman in his dugout right now and his name is Matt Adams. As we wrote last week, here is another piece on the Nats future. Easier said than done in extending Matt Adams, but the fit looks good for both sides. The other players could be available in the off-season free agent market or trades. If Rizzo trades his pending free agents now, he could restock his farm system with prospects to develop and also use as future trade chips.Yesterday, Mike Rizzo did three interviews, and the message in each of them was fairly consistent, but Joel Sherman of the NY Post took it a step further. He mentioned J.T. Realmuto after mentioning a trade of Bryce Harper.

“Something extreme would have to happen for us to consider moving [Bryce Harper],” Mike Rizzo said.

Joel Sherman asked what “extreme” was and Rizzo would not elaborate.

Sherman wrote this: “Rizzo said he would not engage “in the hypothetical” of what that “extreme” would be. But it is unlikely to occur between now and Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Even more losing would probably not move an ownership that loves Harper to trade him, or push the Nats to work up the gumption to deal a popular player who only got more so by winning the Home Run Derby last week in Nationals Park…

But even if they wanted to make that splash, Washington would probably need even more than the Dodgers gave up for Machado…Rizzo said he would never discuss if he has taken calls or made calls about any player, including Harper…Rizzo said they would like to add a starter and upgrade at catcher, though their main target, Miami’s J.T. Realmuto, probably is beyond their reach, and their secondary target, Tampa’s Wilson Ramos, is currently on the DL.”

Do the Nationals make trades now that benefit them in 2018 and the future? One of our Marlins sources believes a Victor Robles trade for J.T. Realmuto is still doable. With two years and two months remaining on his contract, the Marlins know Realmuto most likely won’t stay with the Marlins when free agency hits. The Marlins right now look like they swung and missed on the Christian Yelich trade and our source says they won’t trade Realmuto without receiving a true #1 prospect from the Astros or Nationals who are in greatest need for a top catcher, and our source does not believe Carter Kieboom moves the needle.

Two names to circle on pending free agents for the Nationals acquisition “want list” are catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Patrick Corbin. Both players will be in demand, and the Nationals will have few off-season needs and will have spare cash if they don’t re-sign Bryce Harper.

What if Mike Rizzo was able to trade Bryce Harper now in an “extreme” package and then you use a player in that package to get Realmuto? Yes, that is extreme, complicated and creative.

Right now, the Nationals line-up for next year looks like it needs Matt Adams and Realmuto’s names penciled in for 2019. Adams would make a great platoon partner with Ryan Zimmerman who will be almost 35 years old which is considered retirement age for most players in the post-steroid era. This line-up looks as youthful and dynamic as the 2016 Houston Astros.

1. Trea Turner SS
2. Adam Eaton RF
3. Anthony Rendon 3B
4. 1st baseman
5. Juan Soto LF
6. Catcher
7. 2nd baseman
8. Victor Robles CF
9. Max Scherzer RHP

The Nationals have some tough decisions to make today and in the near-term as the clock is ticking while days are getting X’d off of the schedule. Here is what the Nationals pending free agents look like:

The Nationals not only can trade expiring contracts, but they can also get below the salary cap and avoid the associated penalties.

Remember, the Nationals can trade Bryce Harper and then do what the Yankees did with Aroldis Chapman when they traded him for Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and Adam Warren and then signed Chapman back months later in the off-season as a free agent.

Open for business.



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