The Nats avoided 2018 arbitration with Bryce Harper by settling his 2018 contract early. The timing seems weird and when asked, Mike Rizzo offered up “cost certainty” as an explanation. Knowing now what is on the books for 2018 will reduce the variables Rizzo will need to consider as he looks into trades to upgrade the roster.
Despite the big division lead, the Nationals have holes that will need to be patched in order to make a deep postseason run. If the Nats can learn anything from the Caps, it’s that being best in regular season offensive production is a distant second best to making deep playoffs runs.
Rizzo replaced Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa with Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters, yet Eaton’s injury reopens (yet again) the revolving door that has been the Washington Nationals starting centerfield role. Maybe Jacob Turner, or a rejuvenated Joe Ross, is the answer the final rotation spot. But maybe not. And the bullpen. Sweet Christmas, the bullpen.
Mike Rizzo’s got some work to do.
The good news: both World Series teams from last year picked up new closers mid-season. The bad news: both teams gave up a lot of prospects to get them.
Rizzo thinned out the Nats’ top prospect list in getting Eaton. But he got a good player with a great contract for the next half decade. If he’s going to give up a similar load to fill the current holes, my bet is he’s going to want more than a rental player on the last year of his contract. Admitting to wanting to know next year’s payroll points to Rizzo wanting a long-term return if he has to part with any of his top three prospects: Victor Robles, Erick Fedde, and Juan Soto. He’ll have to part with at least one of them if he wants a top arm for his bullpen, a top-flight centerfielder, or a fifth starter upgrade.
Perhaps Fedde could be the solution to the fifth rotation spot. He’s pitched well in AA and is the Nats top pitching prospect. Of the three top prospects, he’s the closest to the Majors. Putting Fedde in the rotation (if he can hold his own) would allow Turner to stay in the bullpen and make Ross and AJ Cole bullpen options. Perhaps Ross could even fill the closer’s role. His two-pitch repertoire is better suited for relief work, plus, his fastball should gain a few ticks on the radar gun if it’s used in shorter stints.
Robles and Soto are currently in high and low A ball respectively. Both are teenagers. Neither is expected to help the Nats this season, although Robles might be a September call-up. The Nats will need a new outfielder next year with Jayson Werth‘s contract expiring, and Robles is expected to be an option. It’s risky giving either Robles or Soto up.
All three prospects have bright futures, and it would be a tough pill to swallow if one is traded for a half-season rental. However, if the return is able to help fill one of the team’s holes for at least this year and next, it might make more sense for the club.
Rizzo’s trading history shows he prefers getting players with more than one year on their contract. Only the Mark Melancon trade last year was a rental. Gio Gonzalez, Eaton, Denard Span, and even Yunel Escobar all had at least two seasons on their deals.
Teams like the Blue Jays, Brewers, and Royals don’t figure into their division’s pennant races, but they have some interesting players that could help the Nats. Marcus Stroman of the Jays, Corey Knebel of the Brewers, and Kelvin Herrera, Jokim Soria, and Mike Minor of the Royals are bullpen upgrades that could be available and would come with more than one year of control.
Lorenzo Cain, the Royals centerfielder, and one of those relievers would make a nice package deal. Stroman is good, has a team-friendly contract, and is young, which means his price would be high. Knebel doesn’t have closer experience but may be the best reliever mentioned above. He has an 0.95 ERA, more than 14 K’s per 9 innings, and is yet to give up a home run. It looks to be a matter of time before he takes over the 9th inning from teammate Francisco Rodriguez. He could be cheaper than the others, meaning he might not require one of the top three prospects.
Baseball’s trade market is supply and demand at its finest. Players cost whatever other teams will give up for them. While giving up a top prospect for a relief pitcher seems excessive, it’s probably necessary. If Rizzo does part with Robles, Fedde, or Soto, let’s hope he gets back someone that can make an impact, both this year and beyond. Or be named Yu Darvish… because always Darvish. Darvish always.
Tags: Erick Fedde, Juan Soto, Mike Rizzo, Nationals, Nats, Victor Robles, Washington Nationals