The 2022 MLB trade deadline is just under eight weeks away, but the Nationals are already preparing to be sellers when Aug. 2 rolls around.
It’s no surprise that Washington (21-36), which entered this season with its lowest expectations in years following a deadline fire sale last summer, isn’t planning to add pieces for the stretch run. The club is prioritizing youth development over wins and losses in the short term as it attempts to restock its farm system and forge a long-term contender like the one that made five playoff appearances from 2012-19 and won the World Series.
However, President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo didn’t wait until the deadline drew closer before announcing the Nationals’ plans. He told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday the team expects to be “careful sellers” should its record hold.
“I would assume that if we’re playing at the rate we’re playing we would be careful sellers [at the trade deadline] and make sure that we maximize the players at least with expiring contracts,” Rizzo said. “I don’t think that would come as a shock to anybody at the radio station right now.”
The Nationals have eight players on their active roster slated to hit free agency this offseason: first baseman Josh Bell, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, second baseman César Hernández, third baseman Maikel Franco, utility players Ehire Adrianza and Dee Strange-Gordon as well as relievers Steve Cishek and Erasmo Ramírez. Relievers Sean Doolittle and Will Harris, shortstop Alcides Escobar and starter Aníbal Sánchez are all on the Injured List as well.
After seven of the eight veterans Rizzo traded in 2021 were on expiring contracts, none of the Nationals’ impending free agents should be considered off the table in trade talks. They won’t be the only players other teams inquire about, either.
While Rizzo has made clear that Juan Soto isn’t going anywhere, the same can’t necessarily said for Carl Edwards Jr. (free agent after 2023), Erick Fedde (2024), Tanner Rainey (2025) or Yadiel Hernández (2026), all of whom are 29 or older. Even Victor Robles (2024), who is still just 25, could be valuable enough between his glovework, baserunning and former top prospect status to consider moving — though he’ll likely need to show some improvement at the plate.
The hefty long-term contracts for Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg make trading either of them unlikely. Corbin has been statistically one of the worst starters in baseball since the start of the 2020 season. Strasburg, meanwhile, has made only seven starts over that span and holds 10-5 rights (10 years in MLB, five with one team), which allow him to veto any trade. He’s set to make his season debut in his return from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery Thursday in Miami.
It remains to be seen what “careful sellers” means for Washington, which entered the season with its lowest Opening Day payroll (excluding 2020) in nine years. The team hasn’t signed a multi-year contract since the 2019-20 offseason, giving it plenty of payroll flexibility for 2023 and beyond even with the Corbin and Strasburg contracts on the books.