By: Chris Larson
Before you start reading this, understand the disclaimer that there's about a 5% chance of a selloff actually happening for the Washington Nationals, but given the way the team has played this year, anything is possible. After all, the Washington Nationals, a team that was expected to run away with the NL East, is currently in third place in the NL East with a 45-45 record and are 3-7 in their last 10 games alone.
For a team that was expected to be the best team in the National League this season heading into Spring Training, the Nationals have certainly underperformed and disappointed their fan base especially during what could be Bryce Harper's last season with the team. Harper has long been a franchise icon and was played a large part in helping the team to capture the NL East Championship 3 of the last 5 years, but has not done much offensively at all so far this season.
So given their struggles and the underperformance of many impact players, such as Bryce Harper, could the Nationals shock us all and potentially sell off a few pieces at the trade deadline? It's certainly possible and something that General Manager, Mike Rizzo, would have to at least consider especially given where the team is and the fact that there are several pending free agents. However, it's not going to be an easy decision whatever way you look at it and is one that will require lots of evaluation and understanding of the overall landscape of the National League East.
Not many people around baseball would have expected the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies to be in the position that they are right now and with the hot start that the New York Mets got off to, many expected them to at least be pushing the Washington Nationals for the NL East title. However, the Mets quickly fell off the map after the month of April and the Braves and Phillies have had staying power all season long which has complicated things for the Nationals and put them in the position that they are in. All of that has likely been understood by Mike Rizzo & Company to this point and will continue to be a driving force behind whatever the organization decides to do as the trade deadline approaches.
Additionally, within the rest of the National League, the Nationals have quite a bit more competition than they might have had in years past. In the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers look like a postseason team once again and you certainly can't count out the Chicago Cubs or the St. Louis Cardinals completely even though both teams haven't played to their full potential either. Over in the NL West, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers will be in a race til the very end and the Rockies along with the Giants are two teams that should, at the very least, hang around in the race. So essentially, the Nationals are going up against 9 other potential postseason contenders in their pursuit through the NL, which is another thing that has to be taken into consideration.
With that being said, who are some of the trade chips that the Nationals could look to trade come the trade deadline especially if they have an awful next two weeks and just don't see the light at the end of the tunnel? Let's start with their biggest trade asset of all in pending free agent and superstar, Bryce Harper. Harper, has certainly struggled offensively all season long as mentioned before, but considering the player he is, he is still highly regarded throughout the game by many teams. If the Nationals were to make him available on the trade market, there would likely be plenty of suitors for his services, even if it meant only having him on said team for 3 months.
Beyond Harper, the Nationals also have pending free agents in Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Adams, Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley, and yes even the recently acquired, Kelvin Herrera. In fact, there are a few teams out there that have been rumored to be keeping an eye on Herrera in the event that the Nationals do decide to flip him a few weeks after acquiring him from the Kansas City Royals. Herrera is still a very good reliever and someone who could bolster any bullpen as is Ryan Madson and Shawn Kelley. As is the case every year at the trade deadline, teams lineup in droves for additional bullpen help so the Nationals should have no problem trading any of the three, if they elect to do down that route.
As for Daniel Murphy, any team potentially looking for help at second base would be a fit. Some potential fits include the: Indians, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Brewers. All of those teams could use extra depth at second base and Murphy could very well be the guy. In regard to Gio Gonzalez, there should be multiple suitors for him as well considering how many teams look for extra depth in their starting rotations this time of year. Some potential fits for Gonzalez, if he were to be made available on the trade market, include the: Brewers, Mariners, and potentially the Diamondbacks.
Again, none of us expect the Washington Nationals to be sellers at the trade deadline and there is a very minimal chance of a selloff truly happening (5%), but it's at least something that has to be considered. The Nationals have underperformed all year long, aren't the powerhouse that they have been in previous seasons within the NL East, and might miss out on the playoffs. For a team that was expected to be the best in the National League out of Spring Training, a selloff would be disappointing, but at least it would be a modest retooling effort instead of a full blown rebuild.
The next two weeks will be very telling as to what the organization will do and Mike Rizzo along with the rest of the front office, will likely spend that time carefully evaluating things and seeing what makes the most sense for the entire organization. The last thing they need is to have a bunch of pending free agents, miss out on the playoffs, and have nothing to show for those players.