There is less than a month to baseball’s trading deadline and the Washington Nationals will soon have to decide whether they are going to be buyers or sellers.
Six weeks ago, the Nationals were 20-15 and seemingly had finally shed their worst-team-in-baseball persona. Five games later however, they were just a .500 team and since that time have gone 15-30.
There have been signs of life this week, but has it been enough for general manager Mike Rizzo to keep the team together?
Let’s find out.
First, here are the members of the current 25-man roster who will be part of the team through next season and—hopefully—for seasons to come (with their age in parenthesis):
(24) SS—Ian Desmond: .252-4-33
(25) 3B—Ryan Zimmerman: .283-13-40
(26) OF—Roger Bernadina: .283-5-23
(25) SP—John Lannan: 2-5, 576
(25) RP—Tyler Clippard: 8-5, 2.20
(27) RP—Sean Burnett: 0-4, 2.73
(21) SP—Stephen Strasburg: 2-2, 2.27
(22) RP—Drew Storen: 2-1, 1.74
Next are players who, though they have performed well enough, have yet to cement themselves into the team’s long-range plans:
(28) UT—Mike Morse: .315-3-6
(26) SP—Craig Stammen: 2-2, 5.13
(25) SP—Luis Atilano: 6-4, 4.31
(27) SP—J.D. Martin: 0-4, 3.38
(27) UT—Alberto Gonzalez: .286-0-3
These players have little chance of returning to the Nationals next season due to age, performance, or contract status:
(32) Willie Harris: .155-4-18
(32) Wil Nieves: .171-1-8
(39) Miguel Batista: 0-2, 3.95
(34) Tyler Walker: 1-0, 3.57
(30) Doug Slaten: 2-1, 3.14
And finally, here are the players who might be traded before the July 31 deadline:
(38) Pudge Rodriguez: .299-1-23
(30) Adam Dunn: .275-17-47
(32) Cristian Guzman: .297-1-21
(31) Josh Willingham: .274-14-44
(29) Nyjer Morgan: .254-0-13
(34) Adam Kennedy: .238-2-15
(35) Livan Hernandez: 6-4, 2.98
(26) Matt Capps: 1-3, 3.28, 22 saves
So as things stand now, roughly a third of the Nationals’ roster is part of the team’s future, another third is full of placeholders until better players come along, and a final third is full of stars and near-stars, but who might or might not be part of the team’s future.
So what to do? Let’s take a closer look at the trade candidates/
Though it would make sense for the Nationals to trade Pudge Rodriguez to a contender, they simply cannot. Jesus Flores, the catching heir apparent isn’t even close to returning from the disabled list and backup Wil Nieves gets worse the more he plays.
Early in the season, Rodriguez was one of the team’s best hitters, but has slumped badly.
When the Nationals crested at 20-15 in mid-May, Rodriguez was hitting .367/.390/.490 with 15 RBI. Since then, the team has a record of 15-30 and Pudge has struggled, hitting just .215/.247/.269 with just eight RBIs.
Catcher Derek Norris, perhaps the team’s best hitting prospect, is just now healthy after offseason surgery and is hitting .250-4-20 at Class-A Potomac. He is still two or three years away from the major leagues.
Though Pudge is now showing his age offensively, he is helping phenom Stephen Strasburg learn how to pitch in the major leagues.
Cristian Guzman is in the last year of his contract with the Nationals and is not in the team’s plans for next season. Ian Desmond has shown enough to be the Nationals’ shortstop in 2011. He’s hitting well and he is now competent in the field at both second and short. He could really help a contender.
This season, however, Hernandez has parlayed a minor league contract into a 6-4 record and a 2.98 ERA. He is allowing just 8.6 hits and 2.7 walks per game. He has allowed four or more runs in just four of 16 starts this season.
Over the next couple of months, the Nationals will likely add former All-Star’s Chien-Ming Wang and Jason Marquis, and former No. 1 pitching prospect Jordan Zimmermann as well as former first-round pick Ross Detwiler, all from the disabled list.
And John Lannan, the team’s best pitcher the past two years, is regaining his polish at Double-A Harrisburg and will be back soon, certainly by the end of the month.
Livan Hernandez would make an excellent addition to a contender’s starting rotation, but GM Mike Rizzo needs to move him soon, before he remembers that he is a washed-up has-been.
Matt Capps has been a major league closer for four seasons now, but is just 26 years old. He strikes out many batters and hardly walks any (though he does give up a lot of hits).
But he is on a one-year contract and there is no doubt—none—that Drew Storen is ready to take over as the Nationals’ closer. In 20.2 innings this season, Storen is allowing just 6.5 hits per nine-innings while striking out seven.
It’s not often that a closer of Capps’ caliber is available at the trading deadline, and the Nationals have several relief pitchers in the minor leagues who could take over for Storen in the setup role. Syracuse’s Josh Wilkie (2-3, 1.82, 6.4/3.2/7.5) or Atahualpa Severino (3-0, 2.58, 8.2/3.1/5.9) seem ready.
Adam Kennedy hasn’t done much in 2010, but that could be because of a lack of playing time. He has a strong career resume and could help several teams as a utility infielder. But it is doubtful the team would get much in return.
If Guzman goes, Kennedy stays and vice versa.
Last season, Nyjer Morgan seemed to be the answer in center field after several quick, toolsy players couldn’t get it done. And while he was wonderful last season, and is finally beginning to hit in 2010, he has repeatedly shown that he is lacking in general baseball skills, all too often getting picked off of first base, or getting caught stealing, and taking bad routes on fly balls in the outfield.
Had Roger Bernadina not blossomed this season, there would be no question that Morgan was a certain piece of the team’s future. But he is 29 and Bernadina seems to have a much better skill set.
Morgan won’t be shopped, but a quality offer won’t be turned down either.
Josh Willingham is having a great year to be sure. In his five seasons with the Marlins, Willingham averaged .266-24-72 over a 162-game season. But with the Nationals, he has increased his on-base percentage by 21 points and his slugging percentage by 26.
He is on pace to hit .274-28-88 with a .406 on-base percentage this year and his defense is much improved. Clearly, he has become a better player.
The questions surrounding Willingham are three-fold. First, he is 31 and has had problems staying healthy. He missed almost 100 games due to injury with Florida and played in just 133 games with Washington last year.
Can the Nationals count on his remaining in the lineup every day?
Second, at 31, he could begin his end-of-career slide in as few as two or three years. Remember, Senators’ great Frank Howard’s last good year came at age 33, and he never had any injury problems.
And lastly, Willingham is under team control through next year. In order to keep him, the Nationals are going to have to offer him a multi-year contract which would most certainly take him into his mid-thirties.
Is that wise?
His trade value will never be higher than it is now. Reports suggest that the Toronto Blue Jays received less for star pitcher Roy Halladay last winter then they were offered at the trading deadline the previous year.
If the Nationals are planning on moving Josh, now is the time.
The big question surrounds Adam Dunn. We all know what he can do. Wind him up and he’s going hit .260-35-100 while walking and striking out a great deal. But in 2010, he has made over his defense, going from a horrid outfielder to an adequate first baseman.
But unlike Willingham, the Nationals have him for just three more months. So one of two things are going to happen in the next month. Either the team is going to re-sign Dunn to a multi-year contract and make him a part of their future or they will trade him for prospects.
Sure, they could keep him and take the two draft picks in next year’s amateur draft if another team signs him, but that is very iffy. The Nationals drafted pitcher Josh Smoker and outfielder Michael Burgess in 2007 as compensation for the loss of Alfonso Soriano, Smoker is a bust and Michael Burgess is still having trouble making contact at Class-A ball.
But there is no market these days for rental players. The days of getting three prospects for three months service is long gone. Remember, then general manager Jim Bowden couldn’t find a taker for Soriano at the 2006 trade deadline.
Dunn wants to stay in Washington, is young enough to remain productive for years to come, and has had no injury problems in his career.
And he’s a modern-day Frank Howard.
The 2011 Nationals will look something like this, not taking into account possible acquisitions via trade this winter:
1B: Adam Dunn
2B: Filled via trade
SS: Ian Desmond
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
LF: Nyjer Morgan
CF: Roger Bernadina
RF: Filled via trade
C: Jesus Flores & Pudge Rodriguez
Closer: Drew Storen
The possible trades this month of Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez, and Matt Capps would certainly bring several prospects and possibly one or two major-league ready players to the Nationals.
Those pitchers bumped by the return of Marquis, Wang and Zimmermann—Luis Atilano, J.D. Martin, and Craig Stammen—could bring additional prospects as well.
Additionally, the team could again enter the free-agent market and find a plum or two.
The Nationals will have the pitching staff to contend in 2011. The question will be the offense. If Rizzo trades wisely and makes a splash in the free agent market, the Nationals should be a Wild Card contender in 2011.
Maybe, maybe, if.
Though the Nationals have come a long way, they still have a long way to go.