This trade season has been an active one for Mike Rizzo, who acquired a total of four players in an attempt to fix the much-maligned bullpen and add to the teams dubious position player depth. As the dust settled Monday afternoon, the Nationals were left with a transformed bullpen and a bolstered outfield with the additions of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, and Howie Kendrick. Despite the flurry of additions, the Nationals still have a number of questions looming over them as the postseason slowly approaches. Stephen Strasburg’s elbow health is of the utmost importance, the bullpen still has a number of question marks, and the infield depth remains precariously thin. Luckily for the Nationals, trades are still possible until the end of the month so they can still add to the roster if they feel it necessary. Because players traded in August have to pass through revocable waivers, many of the seemingly available players all have performance or salary issues. Should they decide to take a risk, whether out of competitiveness or desperation, there are still valuable players that the Nationals could look to acquire this August. Let’s take a look at some of these players.
The former Cy Young winner was the focus of a swirl of trade rumors this deadline, and was even linked to the Nationals as part of a package with Justin Wilson. Ultimately the Tigers couldn’t find a taker for the aging righty either due to his salary (owed $56,000,000 over the next two years with a third year vesting option) or a lack of teams willing to match the Tigers asking price for the face of their franchise. The Tigers have an improving, but thin farm system to go along with an expensive and aging major league core, so a Verlander trade would be a definitive start to a long awaited rebuild that is already tentatively underway. For the Nationals, the rotation is excellent on paper, but is hinging on the health of Strasburg’s elbow. Max Scherzer’s injury scare last Tuesday and subsequent poor starts from AJ Cole and Edwin Jackson highlighted concerns about the already shaky rotation depth, so the Nationals may feel the need to acquire a proven starter in order to deepen what should be a dominant rotation.
Verlander is an interesting case because his performance is definitely down from where it’s been in the past, but he’s still a serviceable starter. Usually aging serviceable starters owed $56 million over the next two seasons could be obtained relatively cheaply, but due to the potential upside one could receive from a player like Verlander, and his status as a franchise cornerstone, things get a little murkier. The Nationals certainly wouldn’t have to part with Victor Robles in a Verlander trade, but they may need to include mid-level prospects like Daniel Johnson to secure the former Cy Young’s services. Of course if either Scherzer or Strasburg go down for extended periods of time they might not have a choice, and money aside Verlander’s controllability certainly helps his value. With Gio Gonzalez set to be a free agent after next season and Erick Fedde is the only starting pitching prospect remotely close to the major leagues, the Nationals could certainly do worse than an aging Verlander to fill out the back of their rotation. A match here for Verlander is tenuous, and if it were to happen would probably be closer to September than in the next couple of weeks depending on future developments. However, if the Washington-Detroit pitching pipeline were to reopen, the Nationals could cement themselves as legitimate World Series contenders with one of the best rotations in baseball.
Unlike Verlander, Andrew Cashner is neither the face of a franchise nor a significant contract concern. Cashner would be strictly a stretch run rental, and is only owed than $5 million for the remainder of the season. Despite a strong ERA (3.36) Cashner is sporting an ugly 4.41 FIP and his peripherals look even worse (4.63 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9). Should a rotation injury materialize, Cashner could certainly be an option to eat innings, but his raw stuff is what makes him attractive as a trade candidate. Although Cashner would be a fine stretch run innings eater, I wouldn’t want to count on him in the playoffs. If all goes according to plan, however, Cashner could make the long speculated transition to the bullpen for the playoffs, where he has the ability to be a dominant multi-inning force. Because their pitching depth is so thin, the Nationals could acquire Cashner as a starter with an eye towards a bullpen transition should his presence in the rotation become redundant. Since Cashner is a free agent after the season and his peripherals have been so poor, the Nationals could likely acquire Cashner cheaply from a rebuilding Texas team and slot the veteran in wherever they need him most.
Despite riding a recent hot streak, the Pirates still sit nine games back of the second wild card spot and 4.5 games out of the divisional race and are a slump away from falling out of the playoff race. One of the major reasons for the Pirates’ sudden resurgence is right handed relief pitcher Juan Nicasio, who hasn’t allowed an earned run since July 16th. The former starter has been much more effective out of the bullpen (3.38 ERA vs. 5.18 ERA) and has evolved into a dominant back end reliever for the Bucs. The match here may not be a perfect one, what with the Nationals’ retooled bullpen performing well and the Pirates still chasing a playoff berth. However, it is reasonable to assume that the Pirates could be out of contention by August 31st, and they may want to part ways with Nicasio, who is a pending free agent. There isn’t an obvious spot for Nicasio in the Nationals bullpen, but he would be an immediate upgrade over about half of the Nationals current relievers and could transform the once anemic bullpen into a dominant weapon. Nicasio would certainly be a luxury, but in the playoffs, a deep bullpen can be the difference between an early exit and a World Series.
There are of course other players who could make sense for the Nationals should they look to upgrade the existing roster, but none are as talented as the trio of Verlander, Cashner, or Nicasio. Additionally, we could see a new area of need emerge with an injury. Catcher continues to be an offensive sink hole, and the Nationals are an injury away from a bench featuring Adrian Sanchez. As it stands, the Nationals won’t likely want or need to make an upgrade at either catcher or the middle infield, but it’s still only the middle of August and as the saying goes, you can’t predict baseball. We’ve seen time and time again that pitching wins championships and I don’t think any Nationals fans are entirely confident in the current pitching staff. A Strasburg return would go a long way to ailing these concerns, but should health continue to be a problem for the righty, the Nationals may be forced to make a move. Even if Strasburg were to return to health, the Nationals could deepen their already great pitching staff by adding any of these talented righties.Tags: Andrew Casher, Juan Nicasio, Justin Verlander, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals