The month of July is almost upon us, and baseball is about to get a little more interesting. For the most part the buyers have separated themselves from the sellers, and for the first time since 2005 the Washington Nationals are in the position of a buyer. As far as the nature of July guys there are going to be lots of rumors floating around and some of them will have the Nationals making moves that you like and others will have them making moves you dread. The best thing to do is sit back and observe what happens and to take every rumor as only a rumor and only react to what happens when it happens.
July is a hard month. Remember last year when Drew Storen for Denard Span rumors were floating around and as the deadline passed Drew Storen made his way to the mound and all the debates on the value of a closer vs. an every day centerfielder came to a silent end. The Nationals are still in need of a lead-off hitter and could use a centerfielder as Bryce Harper has made five errors in the outfield and has looked to be a much better a defender in the corner positions.
Trying to predict what will happen in baseball, whether it is a deadline deal or happenings on the field can be difficult, but there are a few needs that can be targeted with the Nationals and players available that they have gone after before or have a history with Mike Rizzo.
The most important and obvious need for the Nationals is offense. The Nationals rank 9th in the NL in runs per game having scored 4.10 runs a game compared to a league average of 4.20. Breaking it down further and the real need for the Nationals is a lead-off hitter as they have managed only a .304 OBP from the top spot in the order. The other main issue for the Nationals has been their .642 and .570 OPS from third and left, two historical power positions. With Ryan Zimmerman starting to play better and Tyler Moore turning it on after being called back up the need at those two positions is shrinking.
One of the main issues the Nationals would face in trading for offense is where would the bat they acquire play. If the Nats did acquire Denard Span for centerfield or Carlos Quentin for the corners then they either have to use Moore and Morse as bench players when Jayson Werth is healthy or make a subsequent trade that includes Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, or Adam LaRoche.
Carlos Quentin is an interesting thought but not a likely possibility. He has put up a 1.077 OPS this season and the San Diego Padres are going to be asking a lot for him, but Mike Rizzo was part of the Arizona front office that drafted Quentin and the Nats have been attached to him in past rumors. The Nats need for a corner bat is lower than their need for a top of the order bat. The Nats have the corner bats on the roster and it is a simple matter of getting them to perform. There is no true top of the order bat on the roster and the closest to the majors in the farm system is Eury Perez at AA.
Span was the big rumor for the Nationals last off-season as it appeared they were set to send Drew Storen to the Minnesota Twins, but the deal fell apart when the Twins asked for Steve Lombardozzi to be included. Drew Storen has yet to throw a pitch for the Nationals this season while Span has played well with a batting line of .277/.341/.396, but with Ben Revere putting up a similar .323/.343/.383 batting line the Twins might be more willing to part with Span this season, and the Twins are a team that could use a pitcher like John Lannan in order to survive the season. Lannan would only be part of the package and other players might include a reliever like Craig Stammen or Tyler Clippard and a minor leaguer like Destin Hood. Trading Clippard at this point would bring back all the debates of if a back of the bullpen arm is worth an everyday centerfielder, but consider this debate in light of the fact Drew Storen hasn’t pitched a single game for the Nationals and they are 13 games over .500.
A trade for Span would then bring up the issues of what to do with Moore and Morse when Werth is healthy, but that is not a bad problem to have as Morse could get injured again or Werth may have a setback. Having players of the ability of Moore and Morse on the bench is a luxury the Nationals have never been afforded, and it could be of a great benefit in staying healthy and fresh as the dog days attempt to wear down the ball club.
Going for offense is only one option that the Nationals have. With the pitching staff the Nationals have they could win 90-100 games with an average offense on the field, but if the Nationals can’t get to that point this season then they could always make the pitching staff stronger. That brings up the name of another player the Nationals have tried to trade for in the past. Before the 2011 season the Nationals had a rumored package of Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, and Derek Norris on the table to the Royals in order to obtain the services of Zack Greinke. The Nationals even tried to sweeten the pot with an offer of a $90 million extension, but Greinke denied the trade and ended up on the Milwaukee Brewers instead.
With Stephen Strasburg likely to be shutdown in September there would be no better person to replace the second highest WAR pitching in the NL than the first. As far as what Zack Greinke would cost, that is a mystery due to new CBA rules that make it so a player has to be on a team’s roster for an entire season before they can get draft pick compensation if that player signs elsewhere as a free agent. That means if the Nationals rent Greinke and he walks at the end of the season there will be no extra first round and sandwich round picks.
The price that teams are willing to pay for top of the rotation rentals is confusing. This is the haul the Indians received for Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia; Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley. Of those Michael Brantley has been the best so far, and he is essentially a league average centerfielder. If the Nationals do make a move for Greinke and are willing to include Moore and/or Lombardozzi in the deal then a window for an extension may have to be on the table.
The price for Greinke is expected to be high, because he is the best starting pitcher on the trade market, but Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez, Edison Volquez, and Wandy Rodriguez are all free agents at seasons end and play for second division clubs. This trade deadline very well could turn into a buyers market for starting pitching which would then decrease the price of Zack Greinke, and with the recent failings of prospects traded for star pitchers and the success of top picks in the draft it might end up being wiser for the Brewers to simply hold onto Greinke and take the picks.
In many ways July is the great unknown month of baseball. There are going to be rumors and surprises as players no one expected to be dealt are dealt, and players people thought were locks to be dealt will find themselves still on their original team as the deadline comes to an end. All-in-all it is a fun month, and it will be interesting to see how the Nationals deal with being buyers.