The World Champion Washington Nationals are waiting with the rest of us for the major free agent dominoes to fall, but in the meantime, there’s work to do. One such task might be finding trade partners for any number of current Nationals who are out of minor league options. Michael A. Taylor, Wilmer Difo, Adrian Sanchez, Raudy Read, Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, and Austin Voth are all potential trade candidates, per MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
The players listed above can no longer be shuttled back and forth between the minor leagues without being exposed to waivers – they either make the Opening Day roster, get traded elsewhere, or the Nats will risk losing them for nothing through the waiver claim process. Granted, this isn’t exactly Anthony Rendon or Stephen Strasburg. Washington can take their chances and not be overexposed. But if there’s value to return, GM Mike Rizzo might do well to look for it this week in San Diego.
On the position player side, there’s not much to offer. Taylor has become somewhat of a folklore “postseason specialist,” and there’s room for him on the roster as a fourth outfielder. But he’ll turn 29 in March, and his bygone ceiling as a second division starter has been replaced with legitimate questions about whether he carries enough bat to make the 26-man roster. He’s somewhat inexplicably beloved by a large contingent of fans in the DMV, but the Nationals may very well explore finding another option as insurance should Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton not prove as healthy as they were in 2019. Taylor is a capable defender and baserunner, but he’s also due over $3MM, carries a career .240/.294/.393 batting line across over 1700 big league plate appearances, and he’s coming off a season spent almost entirely in Double-A (though for Washington, Double-A served as a holding grounds for potential call-ups, since their Triple-A team was located across the country in Fresno).
Difo is of a similar mold, but in the infield and without the postseason heroics. Neither Difo nor Sanchez are likely to bring back anything via trade, nor should they really be relied upon by the Nats. Difo will turn 28 this year, Sanchez 30, and there’s just not much upside to mine. Read is a 26-year-old catcher with pop who is out of options despite only 22 big league plate appearances. His power numbers in Triple-A last year (.546 SLG) are enough to crane a neck or two, and the Nats are probably fine with Tres Barrera serving as their emergency third catcher.
Where this gets interesting is with the trio of pitchers who rotated in and out of the Nats’ fifth starter spot. Fedde, Ross, and Voth all experienced some degree of success in 2019, though not one is a sure thing to make the roster.
Ross’ overall numbers (5.48 ERA/4.59 FIP) are ugly, but they’re largely attributable to a horrid run in the bullpen. As a starter in the second half, Ross went 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA, showing signs of finally returning to the mid-rotation form he flashed as a younger player. Though high heat is in vogue, Ross hit his stride when his sinker became a primary offering as it had been before injuries derailed his career. Call me crazy – and this brand of breakout is hardly normative enough to form an archetype – but there’s hints of Jake Arrieta here. Ross is just two years from free agency, and even his second half performance is probably more than should be expected moving forward – but after a 1.05 ERA across five starts in August, Ross certainly became a guy a front office can dream on.
There was a time when those within the Nats’ organization were aligned on Voth as nothing more than organizational filler, and he was the last guy on the Nats’ 40-man roster to get a look in the show last year, but he added a couple ticks to his fastball and pitched to a 3.30 ERA/3.70 FIP across 43 2/3 inning worth 1.2 bWAR. Should Strasburg return to Washington, Voth and Ross are probably dueling for the fifth starter spot. It’s also hard to imagine the Nats defending their title with both in the rotation even if Strasburg departs. Still, given the strides shown by Ross and Voth last season, it’s not inconceivable.
Fedde could be the odd man out, but there’s enough of a pedigree to at least explore his value on the trade market. The 26-year-old right-hander was a top-4 Nationals prospect by Baseball America from 2014 to 2017, topping out as the #82 prospect in baseball following the 2015 season. He’s a former first round pick with a Tommy John surgery already in the rearview. The results the last few seasons have been mixed (4.50 ERA in 2019), but there’s no major trauma, and speculatively speaking, he’d be a good fit every fifth day for a younger team like the Blue Jays or Orioles.