Nats Deadline Needs


With the calendar now firmly turned to the month of July trade talk is about the heat up. A couple days ago The Nationals Review had an excellent piece on who the Nationals might be looking to add to the fifth starter mix. Instead of rehashing that piece, I will let you read that and then come back for some of my thoughts. At the top of that list are the big three; Garza, Feldman, Nolasco, and someone like Gallardo should be added to that mix. Of those Feldman is the most likely for the Nationals to go after. He is kind of like this year's version of Paul Maholm with Garza playing the role of Ryan Dempster. He is the less desired of the two Cubs pitchers likely to be traded, but he is also the one having the better season. Epstein is going to want to get as much as possible, but there will be a bidding war for Garza, there may not be for Feldman, and the Nationals are going to want to avoid giving up Brian Goodwin in any trade they make.

The desire to hang onto Goodwin is likely to make it impossible to trade for any of the above mentioned named. The Cubs do have Jorge Soler in their system but as every baseball fan has learned about prospects it is better to have too many than too few. With how highly touted Goodwin is and the history of Scott Feldman and the fact that Feldman is nothing more than a two month rental the Nats may be able to get him straight up for Goodwin or could substitute a lesser but still promising prospect like Michael Taylor and include some of their single A pitching depth. Speaking of that pitching depth as the Potomac Nationals continue to move pitchers up to AA Harrisburg they continue to have their rotation filled by legit prospects.

Most Nats fans know about AJ Cole, Robbie Ray, and Matt Purke but Ivan Pineyro and Blake Schwartz are no less interesting and all five of them have the stuff to one day make it to the majors. The Nationals are very strong in the mid-minors in pitching, and as soon as next season will be very strong in the upper minors with those same players. That means that any one of those above listed pitching prospects could be moved at the deadline as could Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill, Nathan Karns, or Paul Demny. Pair one or two of them with someone like Michael Taylor and that could be enough for Scott Feldman depending on the other offers the Cubs receive, but if the Nationals are the first to offer and it looks like a good offer they could swoop in and snap up Feldman while the rest of baseball is still bidding on Garza, and this is how some of the best deadline deals are made.

The real big thing is that list of pitching prospects while full of promising arms isn't full of top of the rotation arms. The ceiling for most of those guys is mid to back of the rotation starter or bullpen arm. It makes it very hard to make a trade. AJ Cole has the highest ceiling of anyone and was a key piece in the Nationals trade for Gio Gonzalez. That is the type of package he can be included in but he is also the one the Nationals would want to give up the least. The big thing to remember is the Nationals don't need a top of even mid-rotation arm. They need a 4.50 ERA keep the team in the game type of starter. They need someone from the bottom of the list. Instead of going back over those names I am going to insert one of my own, Bud Norris.

Bud Norris is almost the perfect Rizzo trade target. His 4.26 career ERA fills the fifth starter role that the Nationals need, but under the new Astros management he is having the best season of his career with career lows in BB/9 and HR/9. While the low homerun numbers are unlikely to be sustainable, the not walking people is. His strikeouts have dropped from a career average of 8.4 per nine down to 6.3 but, as anyone that has watched Jordan Zimmermann pitch can attest, not walking batters is more important than nibbling at the corners and consistently working into trouble by walking batters, and if Norris' low homerun numbers are due to not being behind in the count then there is a chance that when they do regress it won't fully be to his career mean.  

Norris is also a great Rizzo type trade candidate because he is not a rental. He is signed through the 2015 season. It gives the Nationals two extra years of control. It also increases the price somewhat, but as the bidding war for Norris is going to be less than the one for Garza, Gallardo, or Nolasco it still means the Nationals would have to give up less to get him. The Astros are going to need quantity over quality. They are going to want legit prospects, but they are going to want four or five good prospects as opposed to one or two great ones. So while the price for Garza could get as step as Goodwin and Cole as the starting point the price for Norris is going to be four prospects off the Potomac and Hagerstown rosters. Guys with a high ceiling but that are further away because honestly the Astros are further away. They would rather have prospects that will help them in 2016 than 2014 because there is a better chance they will be ready to contend and need those prospects in 2016.  

So if the Nationals do make a trade for a starting pitcher someone like Norris is more up Rizzo's alley because he is still relatively young at 28, has two additional seasons of team control, and isn't going to cost prospects the Nationals are planning on using in 2014 or 2015. It should also be pointed out that Norris isn't on the top of many teams shopping list. The Nationals could easily jump in right now and offer the Astros something like Ray, Pineyro, Mooneyham, Taylor, and Martinez right now and start a discussion that ends up with Bud Norris quickly in a Nationals uniform and ready to help the team for most of the month of July as opposed to waiting right up until the deadline and having one less month of improved play.  

Aside from the fifth starter spot the Nats other main issue has been the bench. A lot of that can be filled from within and Harper's return could easily help some of the struggling bench players. They will no longer be counted on to start and Davey Johnson can deploy them when he feels that the match-up advantage is his. The Nationals also have internal replacements for the likes of Bernadina and Lombardozzi in Corey Brown, Zach Walters, and Jeff Kobernus if they should continue to struggle. The real need is a right handed veteran power bat off the bench, and while Jeff Francoeur's name has become a curse word among the internet baseball community he fills Davey's veteran requirement and for his career has hit .287/.338/.471 against left handed pitchers.

The Nats could easily pick up Francoeur for not much in a trade and if that doesn't work out wait for the next veteran right hander to be DFA'd or placed on waivers after July 31. The bench is a movable thing and fixing it is more about throwing as many players against the wall and hoping someone sticks before rosters have to be set on September first. The real improvement of the Nationals showed up last night when Bryce Harper took his place in left field, and even more help is on the way with Wilson Ramos having begun a rehab assignment in Potomac. The Nationals need a fifth starter and bench help. They need to shore up the bottom of the roster, and the price for that is typically a player to be named or cash considerations. Getting into bidding wars for top talent rentals isn't what the Nationals need, but as the Soriano signing showed don't be surprised if it does happen. Mike Rizzo and the Nationals are in win now mood and sometimes you have to pay to play. 

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