We are exactly 30-hours to the non-waiver trade deadline and NatsTown will go through 30-hours of anxiety. We don’t have to rehash why the Washington Nationals are where they are in any great detail. All you have to do is look at the team’s record in one-run games for all you need to know with 18-losses in 28 one-run games — and yes, that is horrific. If that was reversed, the Nationals would be in 1st Place and would be buyers at the trade deadline. In stark contrast, the Phillies have 20-wins in their 29 one-run games, and that is why they are currently in 1st place in the NL East.
The Nationals could turnover at least 40% of their current roster going from this year to next and that could be higher depending on opt-outs. If all of the 11 free agents on the MLB roster leave, that will free up nearly $88 million in cash which general manager Mike Rizzo can spend elsewhere.
For the Nationals, one pending free agent who stands out above the rest is Bryce Harper. There has been a whole lot of “smooth talking” over the years from Harper and also from Rizzo. Publicly there is a lovefest which leads us to believe that there is near zero chance that Harper will be traded before tomorrow. Actions speak louder than words. The Nationals are now at a crossroad with Harper. Put up or shut up. If you want to stay, today is the day. Here’s a suggestion — offer Harper more than what he is worth. Offer him 10-years at $275 million. If he takes it, you have your answer. If he does not, you try to trade him for what Rizzo called a “spectacular” deal — but don’t expect any of that to happen.
Here’s the rub: If you don’t trade Harper and he becomes a free agent with a qualified offer which seems very likely, the Nationals would only get a 4th round compensation pick in next year’s draft as return if he signs with another team. That is worth little. Fourth round draft picks don’t have a high probability of future stardom. What has a higher probability of future stardom is trading Harper now for a legitimate top prospect — if that is possible. There is no guarantee Rizzo could get a top prospect, however many MLB analysts believe Harper would get teams bidding for him just like in free agency because — he’s Bryce Harper. Again, there is a low probability that the Nationals will trade Harper.
“It would have to be a spectacular set of circumstances for us to [trade Harper],” Rizzo said in a 106.7 radio interview last week. “We’re going to do what we have to do to better this team for 2018 and beyond. That’s one of the superstars in the game and he’s a guy that is near and dear to my heart personally, and in Washington D.C., and is one of the great players in the game.”
There are few stats that can predict the remainder of Harper’s season, but history says he is better than what he has done in 2018, and all belief is he is healthy as we saw in the Home Run Derby.
What about the rest of the Free Agents?
While the Nationals have several pending free agents who would be good fits for other teams, there is little value trading players for what we call “Cutter Dykstra” types. No offense to Cutter Dykstra, but you need a lot more than Trent Giambrone to trade Ryan Madson and Kelvin Herrera. Most analysts believe Herrera and Madson would be two of the most coveted relievers if they were made available for trade.
But maybe there are some names on the list who the Nationals should retain like Matt Adams and Jeremy Hellickson. It seems a fine time to extend Matt Adams now and use that Roark money on Jeremy Hellickson. Right now the Nationals hold the rights for 2019 for Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Jefry Rodriguez, and Austin Voth for the starting rotation. If you extend Hellickson, you have enough to put together a good rotation and add to it with a J.A. Happ or a Patrick Corbin.
The outfield without Bryce Harper looks like Juan Soto LF, Victor Robles CF, and Adam Eaton RF with Michael A. Taylor on the bench and Andrew Stevenson as depth if you don’t upgrade. If the Nationals retain Harper then you probably keep Robles in the Minor Leagues to start the season or trade him or you look to make Soto your 1st baseman of the future if Matt Adams isn’t retained long-term.
The infield has Anthony Rendon 3B, Trea Turner SS, Vacant 2B, Vacant 1B. The Nationals will get Howie Kendrick back for 2019 and they still control Wilmer Difo with Carter Kieboom in the wings. Brian Dozier is set to be a free agent and could fit in as another option. The Nationals also control Ryan Zimmerman for the final year of his contract if they reject his 2020 team option. Retaining the left-handed Matt Adams makes good sense or a move of Soto to 1st base is a creative alternative.
For the catchers, the team controls Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino, and Raudy Read. The catcher’s spot remains a large hole going forward. Even if the Nationals are not contenders this year, J.T. Realmuto still makes sense to acquire so you have him for 2019 and 2020 or risk dipping into the free agent market for Yasmani Grandal who will be in high demand. Of course Wilson Ramos is also a pending free agent and should be available for little since he is injured.
The Nationals bullpen starts with Sean Doolittle who the Nationals control on a team option. Brandon Kintzler will most likely take his player option to remain with the team, and Justin Miller remains on team control along with Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, Koda Glover, Wander Suero and Trevor Gott. The team will almost certainly look for a big arm to replace Ryan Madson.
From Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post: “…with the arrival of Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Carter Kieboom and Erick Fedde, plus the return of starter Joe Ross from injury, the Nats will be assured of fresh blood and energy. With about $70 million dropping off the payroll at the end of the season, the Nats also will be primed for a winter loaded with classy free agents.”
While we are not sure about Boz’s math skills as the $88 million is accurate or the inclusion of Erick Fedde in the equation, what does Boz mean about classy free agents?
The Nationals could go into sell-mode while simultaneously buying long-term players to position this team better for the future.
We are exactly 30 hours to the trade deadline and Mike Rizzo is on the clock.