What the Nats Should do in July
The trade deadline is a little over a month away and that means the coming month of July will be filled with speculation, rumors, and excitement but will ultimately end with disappointment. As a baseball fan the trade deadline is a yearly excuse to get excited about trades and rumors that have no realistic chance of coming true. As a first place team with a couple of questions the Nationals have a chance to make some moves and while every other team is chasing one of the Cubs five starters and David Price, the Nationals could go after a position player. Specifically a second or third baseman with Rendon playing whatever position they don't and Span hitting the bench or being sent off in a separate trade to help replenish the farm system. The biggest second base name rumored to be on the market is Chase Utley. The 35 year old second baseman is owed $15 million for 2014 and $10 million for 2015 unless he spends less than 15 days on the DL for a knee injury and then he gets $15 million, Utley's contract also comes with several options that vest if he reaches 500 plate appearances and if a career .868 OPS second baseman is doing that it is likely that a team is going to want to keep him around. Ruben Amaro Jr. is in an interesting predicament. He can admit failure and start the rebuild with the Phillies and lose his job at the end of the season, or he can keep on going with the players he has and lose his job at the end of the season. In no scenario is Ruben Amaro Jr. the Phillies GM when the 2015 season begins.
If the Phillies do opt for a rebuild they would be open to trading the 35 year old Utley for two reasons. The first is that he is 35 and the second is that of all the Phillies’ big money guys he has the most reasonable contract and will bring the most back in return. It should be noted that the Nats and Phillies are in the same division and this kind of trade is sometimes frowned upon, but if the Phillies are going for a rebuild they aren't planning on winning again until Utley has either served out his contract or become an aging burden on the team that acquired him.
Now comes the big question of what it would cost in prospects for the Nationals to acquire Utley. First and foremost the Nationals have to agree to pay all of the salary that will somewhat help to lower the cost of prospects demanded in return. The second thing to understand about any trade at this deadline is Lucas Giolito is going nowhere. Giolito is very likely to be one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball by the end of this season and those guys don't get moved unless your team's GM is Dayton Moore and Dayton Moore isn't the GM of the Nationals. With Utley still being a very good player it is going to cost the Nationals some good prospects which means they get to trade AJ Cole for a second time and likely going with him is Brian Goodwin as he is someone the Phillies can sell to their fans as a high draft pick that was one of the Nationals top ten prospects. The third and final piece of the deal is likely a pitching prospect from the Potomac or Hagerstown roster with a high ceiling like Austin Voth.
If that cost of prospects is too high there are plenty of other options for the Nationals when it comes to second base. The Reds may view themselves in it but they did spend all off-season trying to unload Brandon Phillips and no one was willing to give up anything for him. Meaning that it may only take money to get Brandon Phillips to the Nationals, and then there is Ben Zobrist of the Rays, Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks, the outside shot at Jose Altuve of the Astros or Starlin Castro of the Cubs, and finally Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians.
When it comes to third basemen the Nationals could trade for the list is very short. Chase Headley has been nothing but disappointing and wouldn't provide much of an upgrade, Luis Valbuena of the Cubs has been very good this season but a career .672 OPS points to likelihood of getting the worst of his 2014 season, and Martin Prado of the Diamondbacks is both under a long contract and hasn't been good for the past couple of seasons.
The easiest place for the Nationals to upgrade the offense is via a second baseman and the best of those is Chase Utley. After him there are plenty of other options that won't cost as much in money and/or prospects. Any trade for a second baseman would send Zimmerman to left field for the rest of the season and Denard Span either to the bench or out of town for prospects. And with all this being said and half of you reading this excited for the prospects of Chase Utley or Brandon Phillips in a Nats jersey remember the trade deadline is all about the build-up. The conclusion is going to be disappointment and the 2014 Nationals on August 1 will look much as they do on July 1.