Washington Nationals: Buy, Sell, or Trade


Heading into the all-star break the Nationals had just finished a 2-5 road trip but were one game over .500 and six games back of the Braves. It was bad, but not as bad as it could be, and then the all-star break ended and the Nationals enjoyed their longest losing streak since 2011. After losing six games in a row the Nationals were then able to win four of their final five of the homestand to claw back to two under .500 and 8.5 back of the Braves. Because of their pitching and the talent in the line-up the Nationals aren't out of it, but they aren't exactly in the thick of it either which puts them in an interesting position.  

The biggest goal for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals is to not trade the talent that keeps them in it this season, add talent that helps this season, and do nothing to hurt their chances in the 2014 season. That doesn't mean the Nationals can't add someone like Raul Ibanez because Rual Ibanez while a rental won't cost anything close to a meaningful prospect. The prospects who are untouchable for a rental are AJ Cole, Robbie Ray, Lucas Giolito, and Brian Goodwin. Any of those four could be traded but it would have to be for someone the Nationals control beyond this season and it better be someone with game changing talent.  

The Nationals can still win the division or grab the second wild card this season but with their recent play that has become increasingly unlikely, but the Nats should not be true sellers unless one is apt to believe that Tyler Moore's .411/.515/.589 batting line since being sent back to the minors means he is ready to be an everyday player at the majors and he is after all replacing a career .265/.336/.477 hitter. The ceiling isn't that high with regards to first base offense, but that is a question better left up to the Nats scouts and front office. If LaRoche can be dealt for prospects or part of a three team trade to get the Nationals a back of the rotation starter and bench help then perhaps it should be done, but it all hinges on what the Nats scouts make of Tyler Moore's play at AAA and if he can be an everyday player at the major league level, and it is important to keep in mind when talking about LaRoche he is an extremely streaky hitter and could have an August and September as hot as his May and June.  

What it comes down to for the Nationals is they are on the edges of contending, but aren't in the thick of any race. They can get back into it if they continue to play well and waiting on a move could hurt them more than making a move with regards to this season, but as long as they hold onto Cole, Ray, Giolito, and Goodwin they will not be harming the farm system in any meaningful way. The Nationals are now in a position where Cole and Ray are going to finish this season at AA, likely get invites to big league camp in Spring Training, and start next season in AAA meaning they could be important parts of the 2014 rotation. The struggles of Dan Haren and the back injury to Ross Detwiler exposed the Nationals lack of high level pitching prospects in 2013 and with the emergence of Cole and Ray this season along with Taylor Jordan and Nate Karns that is an issue that has naturally worked itself out for 2014.  

What it really comes down to is that the Nationals do not have obvious immediate replacements for their salable pieces at the major league level, are not in it enough to trade meaningful prospects for rentals, and should look to add for this season and beyond if adding a piece at the major league level. That means the Nationals should neither buy nor sell. They are in the market of trading. They can move both Span and LaRoche or the meaningful prospects as long as what they are getting back is a major league piece under control for multiple seasons or a prospect that is blocked in another organization but is major league ready. It isn't truly buying and it isn't truly selling and it should resemble the type of move more likely to be seen in the off-season. That is what the Nationals should be looking to do, and that is the only way they can improve for this season and do no damage to future seasons.  

As far as some names the Nationals could deal. The recent comments by Tyler Clippard in some ways make Drew Storen a more movable piece. He made it sound like Storen just needs a change of scenery and is the same pitcher that closed over 40 games two seasons ago, and even with Storen's struggles keep in mind that the Astros received Michael Bourn for a struggling and thought to be mentally ruined Brad Lidge. The mark of a proven closer is one that doesn't wash off and comes with huge trade value. Then there is Danny Espinosa who has struggled at the majors and the minors this season, but has the ability to play shortstop and a shortstop with his power potential is a rare thing and he has proven he can do it at the major league level. The arrogance of another organization is not something to be ignored. The Nationals have done it themselves with the likes of Henry Rodriguez. All it takes is one GM who thinks his organization can fix a player's problems.   

From the major league side there is always a chance Clippard goes. It feels like every season at this time his name comes up in discussions and selling a relief pitcher at peak value is always a good idea, but then again Tyler Clippard always appears to be at peak value and finding a relief pitcher that can pitch as well as he has from season to season is a rare commodity. If the Nationals can trade him for a starting pitcher or position player then they should not shy away from it, but with the current line-up the only position the Nats can add to is the outfield and that player has to be so much of an offensive upgrade that it makes losing Span's defense worth it. Then again the Nationals could move Denard Span as either a subsequent trade to adding an outfield bat or as part of a deal to improve another position on the field.    

The next three days are going to be interesting to watch unfold, but do not forget that the biggest trade of the 2012 season didn't come until after the non-waiver trade deadline had passed, and with the precedent having been set for big contracts being movable baseball fans could see a trade of any of the Angels big contracts, the Blue Jays, or Kyle Lohse after the July 31 deadline has passed. My opinion is that the Nationals are going to do something and it is either going to be extremely minor or extremely shocking. There will not be a move made that doesn't make you shrug your shoulder or drop your jaw, and the fact that we haven't heard any rumors involving the Nationals could mean they aren't up to much or they are up to something very surprising. And as with everything we'll know all the answers in the future. See you on the other side.

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