It would take a miraculous run of wins to avoid being partial sellers at the trade deadline

Do you think the Washington Nationals have a miraculous run in them? The team has gone 4-10 since that point in San Diego, and if they could go on a winning streak this week, as unlikely as it is, the Nats might stave up any talk of being sellers at the trade deadline.

In mid-June we reported that a source told us that money would be available from ownership if they Nats decided to be buyers and in particular for salary dump players. The Nats were never going to trade top prospects at this trade deadline. The players who are most likely to be traded are the ones on expiring deals like Jesse Winker and Dylan Floro. The other two players on expiring deals, Trevor Williams and Joey Gallo, are both on the injured list.

The names getting the most mention have team control through next year like Lane Thomas, Kyle Finnegan, and Hunter Harvey. But you would have to be blown away with trade offers to move on from Finnegan and Harvey because they are most likely the key pieces of the 2025 bullpen. The rebuild is basically completed — three years after it started when Rizzo traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner in a package-deal at the 2021 trade deadline.

“If you can’t get excited about where we’re at here, right now, then you’re not paying attention to this rebuild. It’s well underway. Starting pitching is king and we’ve got that. … It’s exciting to be here.”

— Mike Rizzo on @JunksRadio just two weeks ago

What the Nats have done in the past two weeks is part ways with Eddie Rosario and Nick Senzel while also moving Joey Meneses to Triple-A. That is a trio of players who averaged over 31 years of age combined. They were replaced by top prospect James Wood as well as Trey Lipscomb, and Juan Yepez respectively. In addition, the team signed Harold Ramirez also.

On May 10, the Nationals were 1.0 game over .500, and aggressively going with the run-and-shoot offense effectively. The next day in Boston with Victor Robles newly off the 10-day IL, it abruptly did a 180° turn and became the run-and-shoot-yourself-in-the-foot offense.

The team suffered some embarrassing baserunning mishaps from Robles and Senzel that sent the team in a tailspin in that Fenway series. Two and a half weeks later on May 27, Robles was DFA’d. The team immediately won 3-of-4 from the Atlanta Braves and went on a 17-12 run from that point that Robles was DFA’d. Then the San Diego series happened, and the team basically crashed and burned. The team played with such small margins for mistakes that they have lost too many close games in that span. It shows the team was close — but not close enough at this point in time.

What the San Diego series showed was the team could not overcome their baserunning mistakes, defensive blunders, and bullpen meltdowns. And that takes you to what we have seen for the past two weeks. Some of the most disappointing losses as we have watched 5-run leads turn into tight losses.

The value of just 1.0 run makes manager Dave Martinez‘s mantra of go 1-0 today just talk. The managerial and coaching mistakes have piled up also. The only bright point has been the starting pitching — and they would be a lot better if the defense was actually good. Sure, the Nats have a legit Gold Glove center fielder in Jacob Young, and Luis Garcia Jr. has been solid at second base — but every other position has been well below average. Even with Young, the Nats are 26th in baseball in defense behind the pitcher — add in the worst catching defense in MLB — and the Nats are worst defensive team in baseball.

By adding players like Rosario, Winker, and retaining Thomas, that outfield was only saved by Young who covers more ground than a cheetah running across its field to catch dinner. Young has also helped in the base running — but still, the Nats are the worst team in baserunning with the most outs-on-the-bases. Forget about the stolen bases and caught stealing, we are talking about running into outs even before the gut-punch pickoffs.

Where is the coaching up of players? Why do the same mistakes keep happening over and over? Yesterday’s game had two errors by shortstop and 2024 All-Star CJ Abrams. He is statistically the worst fielder on the team by OAA. Why has he regressed as a fielder? Why didn’t Wood know that as an outfielder, he takes all balls in the shallow outfield unless he decides to yield to an infielder who is clearly calling for a ball?

Wood’s non-play on Sunday led to two earned runs scoring. Abrams two errors led to two unearned runs scoring. The plays not ruled errors are the ones you lose track of so easily because when they are ruled as hits, and you just assume the pitcher didn’t do his job.

“[Wood] was looking at the infielders [on that fly ball]. He needs to come run. Outfielders take precedence over infielders. He needs to come and just catch the ball.”

— Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said after Sunday’s game

Now keep in mind, Wood is kind of new to left field with only 26 games in the minor leagues and none in Nats Park until his debut a week ago. He showed some progress yesterday, and he was Baseball America’s pick as the best defensive outfielder in the Nats’ system. We have seen a potent bat from Wood — but growing pains with the glove and baserunning. Better to deal with that from a recent callup than going through that with some of the departed veterans.

The Nats’ manager has spoken a lot recently about winning games in regulation as his team is just 2-7 in extra inning games. So the team is actually 40-42 in games in regulation. Imagine if the team was the reverse and 7-2 in extra innings and voila, they are a potential playoff team with a 47-44 record. Score 1.0 more run in those games in regulation and you never reach extra innings. Martinez’s team is a disappointing 8-13 in 1-run games this year.

So what will this team look like if they traded Winker? He is the second best offensive player after Abrams’ .850 OPS. Winker has an .818 mark, and then the next closest is Garcia Jr. at .739. Yes, the newbies in Wood at .814 and Yepez at .826 could be the answers — but you see the holes in this team.

With the starting pitching looking so good with Jake Irvin, Mitchell Parker, and MacKenzie Gore, and Cade Cavalli working back from his TJ surgery along with DJ Herz learning how to pitch in the majors, the focus could really be on an offseason of improving the position players on both sides of the ball: offense and defense. You would want Winker back potentially next year as the DH. Do you forget about trading him and work on an extension deal now?

While Dylan Crews could be the other top prospect to call-up as Rizzo talked about calling up top prospects in the plural of the word. The outfield to start 2025 should be Wood RF, Young CF, Crews LF. Get them acclimated by the end of this season.

The infield will most likely continue to be Abrams and Garcia as the middle infielders with the hope that Abrams can raise the bar on his own defense. Lipscomb does not look like the answer at third base, and would Rizzo call-up top prospect Brady House without staggering his top prospects? If he did, then Wood, Crews, and House would all have their team service clocks end after the 2030 season.

This offseason could shift from pitching to adding top offense. The one name that would change everything is Juan Soto. He will be the most coveted bat in the offseason, and one team that could absorb his salary demands (details below) would be the Washington Nationals. With Soto working out at first base, he would be the perfect fit if he can play good defense. (video by Chris Kirschner on his social media)

The Washington Nationals are shedding over $30 million in payroll after this season, and possibly more. They will have an offseason payroll, factoring in arbitration-eligible players, of about $85.9 million after the DFA of Senzel. Now if the team trades Thomas (est. $9 million arb value), then that payroll drops to $76.9 million. That includes Strasburg’s retirement pay also. If Soto’s AAV is $40 million a year, the Nationals can afford it now. They may not be able to afford it down the road, and that is always the tough call. But today, they could. Maybe Rizzo will be comfortable sticking with his current rotation sans Patrick Corbin for next year to allow the team to spend big money on a bat.

Most likely the weak links might be third base until House is ready, and catcher until Keibert Ruiz figures it out. Sure, we would all like to see Rizzo and the Lerner ownership group spend on an ace starting pitcher — but if you can upgrade the bullpen and further develop your starters — this could be the answer the Nats had from 2012 to 2014 before they went to Phase II and added Max Scherzer to join Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann who were the teams two homegrown aces.

If you can keep the ETA on House until August 20, 2025, this could be your starters at that time:

  1. Abrams SS
  2. Crews LF
  3. Soto 1B
  4. Wood RF
  5. Winker DH
  6. House 3B
  7. Garcia Jr. 2B
  8. Ruiz C
  9. Young CF
  1. Irvin RHP
  2. Gore LHP
  3. Parker LHP
  4. Cavalli RHP
  5. Herz LHP
  • denotes players not under contract after the 2024 season

Does that look like a winning combination? Better defense, much better offense, and building depth through the draft and player development. The greatest need long-term might be at shortstop and catcher. The draft is just five days away, the trade deadline three weeks from today, and the Hot Stove opens for business just four months from now.

The future looks bright.

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