The Nationals kickstarted their ongoing rebuild with an all-out roster teardown at the trade deadline last season. After a decade of competing for the playoffs, they swapped eight veterans for 12 young players and prospects in a flurry of late-July moves.
President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo already told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies in June that the Nationals, who entered play Tuesday with the worst record in the NL at 30-58, expect to again move major-league talent rather than acquire it this year.
“I would assume that if we’re playing at the rate we’re playing we would be careful sellers and make sure that we maximize the players at least with expiring contracts and I don’t think that would come as a shock to anybody at the radio station right now,” Rizzo said.
With the Aug. 2 deadline approaching, the Nationals’ most likely trade candidates have come into focus. Here’s a look at which players have a better chance of landing with a new team in the next few weeks than others.
Tier 1: Josh Bell
Nobody on the Nationals is more likely to be traded before the deadline than first baseman Josh Bell. The pending free agent has been the team’s most reliable hitter this season, carrying a .304 batting average, .877 OPS and 12 home runs entering their series with the Seattle Mariners.
While Bell could be a candidate for an extension, the Nationals appear to be most focused on working out a long-term deal for Juan Soto than anyone else. Moreover, the 29-year-old is the Nationals’ best asset on their roster in fetching a strong prospect return.
Teams have had a hard time garnering top-100 prospects in exchange for rentals, but that’s the task laid before Rizzo this month. The expanded playoffs have 20 teams within five games of a playoff spot and among the other 10, there are very few — if any — hitters of Bell’s caliber available. Considering the institution of the DH in the NL and the fact that Bell is a switch hitter, he’s a fit for almost every contending team.
Rizzo will be in prime position to take advantage of a sellers’ market and create a lucrative bidding war for his services.
Tier 2: Expiring contracts
As Rizzo mentioned above, the Nationals would be remiss not to consider moving their expiring contracts. Trading these players would have no effect on their future, given they will all hit free agency this offseason anyway. Seven of the eight players the Nationals shipped out at last year’s deadline were in their walk years.
The three players on expiring deals with the most trade value are likely designated hitter Nelson Cruz, reliever Steve Cishek and second baseman César Hernández. Although none are having career years and any returns for them would be modest at best, there will be a few teams looking for low-cost acquisitions and they could fit the bill.
Cruz hasn’t found the power stroke that made him one of baseball’s best hitters throughout the 2010s, but he could still be an intriguing right-handed bat off the bench who brings veteran leadership to the clubhouse. Cishek is a durable right-hander with late-inning experience while Hernández carries a strong contact rate and plays multiple infield positions.
Other players on expiring contracts include Maikel Franco, Erasmo Ramírez, Aníbal Sánchez, Ehire Adrianza, Alcides Escobar, Sean Doolittle and Will Harris.
Tier 3: High-leverage relievers
The Nationals’ bullpen hasn’t been particularly good this season, but their hard-throwing trio of Tanner Rainey (3.30 ERA), Kyle Finnegan (3.89) and Carl Edwards Jr. (3.45) have all had their moments.
Contenders are always going to need bullpen arms and the right offer could be enough to sway the Nationals to part ways with at least one of them despite all being under team control for multiple years. Rainey and Finnegan are signed through 2025 while Edwards Jr. has two years left on his deal due to service time requirements.
Whether traded on their own or packaged with another player, all three relievers would command a better return than any of their expiring contracts. That alone might be enough to sway the Nationals to make a trade considering their farm system is considered one of the weakest in the sport. Baseball America ranked them 26th when the season began.
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Tier 4: Controllable depth pieces
Outside the bullpen, there are other controllable players the Nationals could trade. Even though outfielder Yadiel Hernández has four years left on his contract, the 34-year-old is unlikely to fit into the Nationals’ future plans given his age. His trade value has also never been higher; Hernández sports a .742 OPS over the last two seasons and would be a potent left-handed bat off the bench or even the DH spot for a contender looking to boost its lineup.
Erick Fedde has never been able to live up to his first-round draft status, but he has had stretches of success for their rotation this season despite carrying a 5.01 ERA in 17 starts. He’s also out of minor-league options, which may prompt the Nationals to trade him even though the right-hander is signed through 2024. While no team would expect him to be part of a playoff rotation, he could be a No. 5 starter who moves to the bullpen come October.
In a similar vein, center field Victor Robles is in the middle of his third-straight year playing well below expectations. Gone are the days when teams are trying to acquire him in return for stars such as J.T. Realmuto or Kris Bryant. It’s unclear if the Nationals would be able to get anything for a player who has a .598 OPS and leads all outfielders with five errors, but someone may be intrigued enough by the 25-year-old’s former prospect status to take a chance on him.