This year’s trade deadline seems like it has the potential to be unique, with very few clear sellers. The expanded playoffs and weak Central divisions mean that there are only five teams that are more than eight games out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break.
One of those five clubs is in Washington, as the Nationals have been rebuilding in recent years. Stars like Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Juan Soto have been flipped in deadline deals over the past two seasons, which unsurprisingly has led to them being one of the few noncompetitive clubs here in 2023. Their 36-54 record has them in last in the National League East and they’re 13 games back in the Wild Card race.
The Nats therefore stand out as one of the few clear sellers at this point, with just over three weeks until the August 1 deadline. They no longer have superstars like those mentioned above, but there are still some players that should attract attention.
Candelario, 29, is one of the most straightforward trade candidates in the league. He’s an impending free agent having a great season on a team that’s clearly in a position to sell. MLBTR recently listed the top 50 trade candidates for this summer and Candelario took the #2 spot, trailing only Lucas Giolito of the White Sox.
The third baseman was seemingly breaking out in Detroit not too long ago, putting up solid numbers both in 2020 and 2021. He produced a .278/.356/.458 batting line over those campaigns for a 125 wRC+ and was considered around league average defensively, leading to a tally of 5.8 wins above replacement from FanGraphs in 201 games. Unfortunately, just about everything went wrong in 2022 as he hit just .217/.272/.361 for an 80 wRC+ with subpar defensive grades.
The Tigers non-tendered him instead of paying him a projected $7MM salary for his final arbitration season, and the Nats swooped in with an offer of $5MM plus $1MM of incentives. It looks like that investment will pay off handsomely for the Nats, as Candelario is having a bounceback season. He’s hitting .261/.337/.478 (118 wRC+) and his defensive grades are much stronger. With so few sellers and a pitching-heavy free agent class this coming winter, Candelario should be one of the most sought-after position players in the weeks to come.
Edwards, 31, missed much of the 2019-2021 period due to injuries and had to settle for a minor league deal with the Nationals prior to the 2022 season. He made it to the big league club in May of last year and posted a 2.76 ERA in 62 innings the rest of the way. He likely benefited from a .259 batting average on balls in play and 83.6% strand rate, but his peripherals were around league average.
The Nationals tendered him a contract for 2023, agreeing to a $2.25MM arbitration salary. He’s been solid this year, with a 3.69 ERA in 32 appearances. His 16.9% strikeout rate and 12% walk rate aren’t exciting, but he has a 46% ground ball rate and has allowed just one home run all year. He isn’t likely to fetch a ton as a rental reliever with worrying peripherals, but he’s fairly cheap and bullpen help is always in demand. He’s been on the injured list almost three weeks due to shoulder inflammation, however, so his health will be a clear factor in his market.
Dickerson is a 34-year-old veteran who signed a one-year, $2.25MM deal with incentives in the offseason. The Nats were surely hoping he could serve as a veteran mentor to their younger players and perhaps play his way into being a deadline trade chip. Unfortunately, he’s hitting just .248/.278/.358 on the year for a wRC+ of 69. As a veteran left-handed hitter, he might get interest based on his track record, but the return would likely be mild even if he gets hot in the next few weeks.
Signed/Controlled For One Extra Year
Smith, 28, was a similar bounceback play to the Candelario signing. In 2019 and 2020 with the Mets, he hit .299/.366/.571 for a wRC+ of 150 but followed that up by hitting .233/.298/.345 over the next two years for an 82 wRC+. The Mets non-tendered him, and the Nats signed him to a one-year deal with a $2MM salary and $2MM in incentives.
Unfortunately, this deal hasn’t worked out nearly as well as the Candelario one. Smith is hitting .260/.328/.340 (85 wRC+) while playing first base only. Given the offensive expectations of that position, that’s clearly insufficient production. He can be controlled for 2024 via arbitration but is trending towards another non-tender unless he can turn things around.
Robles, 26, was once considered one of the top prospects in the league but has yet to put it all together at the big league level. He’s always had the speed and defense combo working but has continued to struggle at the plate, coming into 2023 with a career batting line of .233/.306/.359 and a 78 wRC+.
He has shown some positive developments here this year, including a 14.3% strikeout rate that’s well below his 23.9% rate in previous years. His .299/.385/.364 batting line is a bit above average, translating to a wRC+ of 111. Unfortunately, that’s come in just 36 games as he’s twice gone on the IL due to back spasms, including his current stint. He’s making $2.325MM this year with a $3.3MM club option for 2024. Even if that were turned down, he could still be retained via arbitration.
Williams, 31, was primarily a starter with the Pirates for many years but had been deployed in a swing role by the Mets in recent seasons. He signed a two-year, $13MM deal to return to a starting role with the Nationals. He has a 4.45 ERA through 18 starts, striking out 17% of opponents while walking 7.5%. That low strikeout rate has led to a 5.41 FIP and 4.95 SIERA. He’s not going to command huge interest, but a club in need of a back-end innings eater could give Washington a call.
Corbin, 34 next week, is having a bounce back year, at least in terms of results so far. His 4.89 earned run average is an improvement over his 6.31 figure from last year and the 5.82 from the year prior. That’s come despite a 15.2% strikeout rate, which is a few ticks below the past few seasons and would be a career low. On his back-loaded contract, he’s making $24MM this year and a massive $35MM next year. Even if the Nats paid all of that down, they likely wouldn’t be able to get much back in trade.
Thomas, 27, is perhaps the Nats’ best chance to get a significant return this summer. He’s hitting .302/.347/.497 for a wRC+ of 126. His defense is generally considered a bit below average, but he’s stolen eight bases in 10 tries this year. It could be debated as to whether Thomas or Candelario is having the better season overall, but Thomas comes with two extra seasons of arbitration control beyond this one. He’s making $2.2MM this year and would be in line for a couple of raises in the upcoming campaigns.
He’s not a lock to be moved because the Nats could hold onto him and hope to return to contention while he’s still on the club. However, his trade value will only diminish as he gets closer to free agency and more expensive. It’s certainly possible that the Nationals return to contention in the coming years, but it will be a challenge with the division featuring a stacked Atlanta club, the ascendent Marlins and aggressive-spending Mets and Phillies.
Harvey, 28, has been a solid reliever for the club over the past two years. Since the start of 2022, he’s made 76 appearances with a 2.86 earned run average, 28.4% strikeout rate, 7.7% walk rate and 41.2% ground ball rate. He’s continued to move into higher-leverage spots, earning 11 holds and eight saves this year. He could be retained for two more seasons via arbitration, but reliever performance is volatile and there’s always the risk of an injury. He’s making just $870K this year.
Finnegan, 31, is in essentially the same spot as Harvey, as he can be controlled via arbitration for two more seasons beyond this one. He has a longer track record, having established himself as a viable reliever back in 2020, but his results are less encouraging this year. His 3.38 ERA is still solid, but his strikeout rate has dropped from last year’s 26.1% to this year’s 22.4%, with his walk and ground-ball rates also moving in the wrong direction a bit. He’s making $2.325MM this year.
Rainey, 30, is like Finnegan and Harvey in that he has two arbitration seasons after this one. But his situation is very different, as he had Tommy John surgery last August and is only now nearing a rehab assignment. Players on the injured list can still be traded, though the interest may be muted based on the uncertainty. He posted a 3.30 ERA last year with a 28.1% strikeout rate prior to going under the knife. He’s making $1.5MM this year.
Vargas, 32 this weekend, has plenty of experience as a light-hitting utility player. He had a .233/.268/.355 career batting line by the end of 2021 for a wRC+ of 60 but had played every position except center field and catcher. He’s had better results at the plate since joining the Nats in August of last year, hitting .281/.310/.409 for a wRC+ of 98 in 289 plate appearances. He’s making $975K this year and can be retained via arbitration for two more seasons.
Unlike the other names on this list, Meneses isn’t approaching free agency or making a significant salary. The long-time minor leaguer finally got the call to the big leagues last year at the age of 30 and mashed 13 home runs in 56 games, finishing the season with a .324/.367/.563 batting line and 156 wRC+. He was only able to accrue 65 days of service time, leaving the Nats with six years of remaining control.
His production has naturally taken a step back in 2023, as he’s hit just six home runs and is batting .284/.328/.404 for a wRC+ of 98. He’s been on a mini heater of late, as four of those six homers came in the club’s last three games before the break. The Nats could simply hang onto Meneses given that he’s not slated for arbitration until after 2025 or free agency until after 2028. However, his late-bloomer trajectory means that he’s already 31 years old and will likely be in his mid-30s by the time the club is in contention again. Perhaps the best course of action would be to cash him in for younger players now — if there’s sufficient interest in the next few weeks.
The Nationals were the star sellers of each of the past two deadlines, flipping Scherzer and Turner two years ago and then Soto last year. They don’t have any players that could reach that level, either in terms of publicity or prospect return. However, Candelario is one of the best rentals available and should net them some decent value. If they get more aggressive and move controllable players like Thomas, Harvey and Finnegan, they could go even farther in stockpiling young talent for future seasons.