When it comes to the Nationals front office as run by Mike Rizzo, there are no leaks. Any rumors about the Nationals leading up to this trade deadline have been mere speculation. Danny Espinosa doesn’t have an major league-quality bat and with Ryan Zimmerman out for perhaps the rest of the season, the Nats lineup could use an upgrade. That is only marginally true. The Nationals have a record of 39-33 in games Espinosa starts and his 2014 OPS of .624 is right in line with the National League average of .620 for a No. 8 hitter. In other words, Espinosa, while not ideal, is serviceable and if hitters one through seven are performing up to their abilities, the Nats still have an above-average offense.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t upgrades available. It only means the Nationals aren’t as desperate as they may seem. This is the only leverage they have leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline at 4 p.m. today. A big splash like Chase Utley or Adrian Beltre remains unlikely as the cost in prospects may be too great for the future-conscience Rizzo. He isn’t wrong in this view. The best way to win a World Series is not to have the best team from year to year, but to have a very good team for multiple seasons. So with a big splash off the table that leaves the more modest moves.
The best name from that list is Josh Rutledge. The Rockies utility player has filled in at second base and shortstop this season and has hit an excellent .307/.358/.486 while doing so. The first thought is that it is Coors Field aided, but Rutledge has better road numbers than he does at Coors. He is also just 25 and under team control through the 2018 season. It isn’t going to be cheap to get Rutledge, but it also won’t be as expensive as it would be to get Utley or Beltre, and in Rutledge the Nationals would have a younger player they control for longer. Keep in mind that with any of these deals, the Nationals don’t have a full starting infield under contract for the 2015 season.
With the trade of Justin Masterson yesterday and the Indians under .500, 6 1/2 games out of the division, and five games out from the wild card they may view themselves as sellers. But hovering around .500 with two months to play they have a chance, but that chance may lie in their minor leagues with Francisco Lindor, who is currently blocked at the major league level by Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera is no longer a good defensive shortstop and his bat has degraded over the last couple of seasons. His .699 OPS would be an upgrade over Espinosa, but it is likely that Lindor would be able to at least perform to that level for the Indians. With Cabrera approaching free agency, the Indians having a better player in the minors and Cabrera not playing well enough to be offered a qualifying offer, the Indians have tons of motivation to move him. With the Indians also being halfway in the playoff race, they may be seeking pitching help at the major league level, and with Ross Detwiler having struggled in the bullpen, he could be a desirable asset for a team like the Indians.
Barring any big surprises, the two players listed above are the most likely to come to the Nationals before 4 p.m. this afternoon. At this point, you’re thinking I’m crazy because I haven’t mentioned Aaron Hill or Martin Prado, but there is a reason for that. While it is true that Prado’s .693 OPS isn’t much different from Cabrera’s the money and contract status are different. Prado is a 30-year-old underperforming player owed $20 million over the next two seasons. The only way a deal gets done before the deadline today is if the Diamondbacks eat a significant portion of that contract and then they still won’t get a good prospect. Hill has had an even worse season and is owed even more money at $24 million over the next two seasons. With both players not having great seasons, being over 30, and signed to bad contracts they are perfect candidates to clear waivers.
In 2012, the Nationals were desperate for catching help with Wilson Ramos out for the rest of the season, and in August they made a trade to pick up the struggling and overpriced Kurt Suzuki. In 2014, the Nationals appear to be desperate for help on the infield and could very well use a waiver trade once again to fill that need. Two of their speculated main targets in Hill and Prado are perfect candidates to clear waivers. But, of course, remember this is Rizzo and he runs a very tight ship. We can speculate about all these expected deals all we want, but then we’ll get something like Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray for Doug Fister.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our regular roster of writers.