The Nationals are engaging in discussions with rival organizations regarding the possibility of moving several veteran players, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links). Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic hears similarly, writing in a subscription post that ownership is increasingly inclined to cut its losses (including the financial ones) to the extent possible.
Notably, the Nats have not yet committed to any particular direction at the deadline. But they appear to be getting the process started in case they decide to move rental pieces. According to the report, the D.C. organization has indicated it will set its course by the end of the weekend — at which point we’ll be just two days away from the trade deadline.
While the Nats are one game under .500, there is still a glimmer of hope. Neither of the two leading teams in the division — the Phillies and Braves — have run away with things, or (to this point) made any significant deadline improvements. Projections still tend to see it as a closer race, as they presume the Nationals will receive enhanced production from some key players down the stretch.
Of course, the long-awaited spark has yet to occur for the Nats. And the team just received another gut punch today with the news that Stephen Strasburg is headed back to the DL. It doesn’t help that the Wild Card race includes quite a few contestants, meaning it isn’t an obviously better path into the postseason.
It would certainly be difficult for the Nationals to give up on the current season — and not just because that’d be a bitter pill to swallow for a club that entered the season as a clear division favorite that hoped finally to advance through the postseason. The team would also face a less-than-clear situation in deciding what assets to move.
Passan suggests that the focus would likely be on rental relievers. Ryan Madson ($7.5MM salary), Kelvin Herrera ($7.9375MM), and Shawn Kelley ($5.5MM) are all potential chips who’d be of interest to other organizations, perhaps bringing back some prospects and trimming some salary obligations. But whether it makes sense to stop there would make for a tough question.
For his part, Rosenthal says expressly what Passan more or less implies: the Nats aren’t much interested in moving star outfielder Bryce Harper even if they part with other pieces. President of baseball operations/GM Mike Rizzo has indicated that a move on Harper would only be considered in an “extreme” scenario, though presumably that’s much the same situation that would justify the parting with relief assets.
Bidding adieu to Harper now might be difficult, but it’d also be the best possible way for the club to begin a new era without him on good footing. Of course, if the Nats intend to make a full run at bringing him back from the open market, they may well prefer not to set him free now. And it’s also fair to wonder whether the return will be all that great given Harper’s struggles and hefty ($21.625MM) salary.
Harper really isn’t the only established non-reliever who could conceivably be viewed as a trade chip if things head in that direction. For instance, starter Gio Gonzalez and infielder Daniel Murphy are also slated to reach free agency at season’s end, though certainly neither is in top form. Slugger Matt Adams has been excellent and would seem to be an interesting target for some clubs, particularly those in the American League. Other players are nearing the end of their arb years, though there’s no indication at all that the club is thinking of blowing up its near-future core.
All told, it’s clearly an undesirable situation for the Nationals organization. Perhaps the club won’t need to face these difficult questions if it can reel off a few wins in quick succession and its division rivals stumble a bit. Even if the Nats give up on the present season, they hold the promise of bouncing back next year. But it now seems realistic that the team could end up largely giving up on the race in 2018, an outcome that was hard to imagine at the start of the campaign.