The Washington Nationals have acquired Jonny Gomes from the Cincinnati Reds for two minor leaguers, outfielder Bill Rhinehart and lefty reliever Chris Manno. This move, which is being questioned by some, actually gives the Nationals exactly what they need for the rest of the season, a right-handed hitting outfielder in Gomes to platoon in left field with left-handed hitting Laynce Nix.
This move is perfect for the Nationals, as Nix is lost at the plate against left-handed pitching. Gomes is similarly lost at the plate against right-handed pitching. By combining the best of both players in left field, the Nationals could potentially shore up one of the positions that has been giving them trouble all season.
Gomes is a career .281 hitter against left-handed pitching, a number that is nearly 40 points above his career average of .244. He has also slugged .510 against left-handers. Gomes’s struggles come against right-handers, who he hits .226 against.
Nix’s splits are even more gruesome for his career. For his career, Nix is batting below .200 against left-handers. This season, he has only picked up two hits in 24 at-bats against left-handers. As evidenced by Nix’s .289 average and 13 homers facing right-handers, he can provide decent power when used correctly.
The Nationals haven’t been able to find a consistent answer in left field, and the position seems likely to be occupied by placeholders until Bryce Harper is ready. Right now, it makes sense to platoon players there. Gomes is a perfect candidate to fill the right-handed hitting half of the platoon, as he will likely leave at the end of the season, yielding a compensation draft pick.
If you’re a Nationals fan concerned that the team has traded away a potential future star in Bill Rhinehart, you needn’t be. While Rhinehart was enjoying a breakout season for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, with 21 home runs and 59 runs batted in, he is a 26-year-old who has spent four seasons at Double A. Spending four seasons at Double A does not exactly portend future major league greatness.
Even if Rhinehart does manage to develop into an everyday major league player, he would not have a place in the Nationals long-term plan. He would be hard-pressed to find a position with the Nationals.
Rhinehart is not suited to play anywhere other than right field, a position occupied by Jayson Werth, who is not going anywhere. Harper will be playing left field in a few years. The corner infield positions look set with Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. Rhinehart would be a man without a position if he ever made the Nationals. Essentially what he would be would be Gomes, a nice bat off the bench. The Nats will have plenty of opportunities to find this type of player elsewhere.
The other player the Nationals gave up, Chris Manno, is having a good year as the closer at Single-A Hagerstown, but the Nationals have plenty of solid bullpen arms in their system and could easily find a replacement in the draft.
This is a smart trade for the Nationals, and one that will not come back to haunt general manager Mike Rizzo. The Nationals will have two months to decide whether Gomes should be brought back next season. If not, the Nationals will gladly take the draft pick. Adding a player with power who can help keep left field warm for Harper will make Davey Johnson’s job easier for the rest of the season.
If Gomes is able to provide enough offense to help the team to three or four wins, the acquisition will have paid off. The value of a .500 season can never be underestimated as the Nats try to establish a fan base in D. C. With a stocked farm system, the Nationals will benefit from establishing a fan base that will be ready to support a winner in two or three seasons.