Another trade deadline has come and gone, and Mike Rizzo did what he does best: bolster the Nationals roster without selling the farm. While teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, and Yankees made major moves, the Nationals made less heralded moves that fix the major issues with this team: bullpen and bench outfielders.
The Nationals have a deep, well-constructed team. Bryce Harper, Brian Goodwin, Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor, Adam Eaton, Stephen Strasburg, Koda Glover, and Jose Ross have all spent time on the DL. Eaton, Ross, and possibly Glover are all out for the year, but the Nationals are a top-three team in baseball. They have the fifth-best rotation by WAR, second in the National League; the third-best lineup, second in the NL; the fifth-best dWAR and sixth-best BsR — a cumulative baserunning metric. Rizzo has already constructed a fantastic team.
In Rizzo’s years of wheeling and dealing as the Nationals’ GM, there are only two players the Nats would want back: Robbie Ray and Felipe Rivero, and only Rivero burst onto the scene right away. Ray struggled with Detroit before finding success in Arizona. He still walks 4.7/9, so, while he’s a good pitcher, he certainly has his flaws. These two were also traded for key pieces to playoff runs: Doug Fister and Mark Melancon. Arguably, the Nationals do not make the playoffs in 2016 without the latter.
Rizzo’s biggest trade, of course, is the Eaton deal. While Eaton was healthy, this was the most dynamic offense in the majors. The key piece of that trade has underwhelmed to say the least. Lucas Giolito has a 4.70 ERA at AAA, with a decent 9.3 K/9, but a Treinen-esque 4.6 BB/9 and an unimpressive 1.410 WHIP. Once the best prospect in baseball, his stock has fallen precipitously in the eyes of evaluators. Reynaldo Lopez had a decent start for Chicago, but over all in the minors, he’s been the same: 3.6 BB/9, 9.7 K/9. High walks, high strikeouts typically do not make for ace material. Dane Dunning is at High-A, and doing well, but nothing to get overly excited about.
Year-in and year-out, Mike Rizzo makes the deals for the middle-tier minor leaguers. While the Cubs, sold of major pieces for what they needed, the Nationals gave up no one off any top-100 prospect list. The top prospect he surrendered, Jesus Luzardo, is interesting, but ultimately a wild-card. He is just 19, has mid-90’s stuff as a lefty, but was ultimately made expendable when the Nationals selected Seth Romero in the 1st round, and all but a handful of picks on pitchers.
Most importantly, he held onto the “Big 4:” Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Erick Fedde, and Carter Kieboom. Rizzo does not panic. He paid pennies on the dollar for an outstanding trio of relievers in Ryan Madson, Brandon Kinzler, and Sean “DOOOOOOOOO!” Doolittle. While Doolittle has had some interesting outings, and his K/9 is only 7.5 with the Nats, to go with 3.8 BB/9, the Nats bullpen has been slightly improved:
Plus, that Howie Kendrick guy has been slightly above average….
Contrast that with the price the Cubs paid for Quintana this year, and Chapman last. For Chapman the Cubs surrendered Gleyber Torres (3rd on BA’s top 100), Adam Warren, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. Torres is a potential star, Warren has been a useful piece out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Chapman, by the way, is back on the Yankees. So, while the Cubs won the World Series, it’s debatable about Chapman’s overall effect on that result. He wasn’t very good in the post-season, blowing 3 of 7 saves — although his Game 5 2.2 IP, 4K effort was pretty impressive. This year, the Cubs sent Eloy Jimenez (5th on BA’s top 100) as the centerpiece for Jose Quintana (4.39 FIP). Those are steep, steep prices, and the overall improvement of the team is marginal.
While not all prospects pan out, there are many that do. Keeping prospects as talented as Robles and Soto, especially, is important. Fedde looked like he belonged, despite some ugly numbers, showing his well-known fastball and slider, while mixing in a serviceable curveball and change-up. If they get traded, it would have to be for more value than a reliever. The value isn’t there. The position itself is too volatile. Instead, Rizzo made the wise, calculated move, vastly improved the bullpen, and kept the core intact. With Mike Rizzo at the helm, the Nationals will never have to undergo a full rebuild like we saw here for five years.Tags: Mike Rizzo, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals