We’ve talked a lot so far this offseason about the options available to the Nationals via free agency, whether the big-name starting pitchers, the veteran catchers or the left-handed first basemen and relievers currently out there for the taking.
There is, of course, another method for acquiring big league players who can make an immediate impact: a trade.
Mike Rizzo certainly hasn’t been averse to pulling off a winter blockbuster. Go back to December 2011, when he sent four prospects (A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone) to the Athletics for a lefty named Gio Gonzalez. Or December 2013, when he dealt Steve Lombardozzi, Robbie Ray and Ian Krol to the Tigers for Doug Fister. And who could forget the December 2016 jaw-dropper during the Winter Meetings at National Harbor when Rizzo traded Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Adam Eaton?
(Sense a recurring theme here, by the way, when it comes to the timing of such trades? Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be restricted to free agents.)
So is there reason to wonder if the Nationals might have their eye on one of several prominent players whose names have cropped up in trade rumors since the season ended? We’ve known J.T. Realmuto has been available for a full year. Now there are rumblings about star pitchers potentially on the block, like Zack Greinke, James Paxton or even Corey Kluber.
And we know Rizzo is willing to engage in negotiations for big-name arms like that. In case you forgot, in the days leading up the Eaton trade, he was deep in talks with the White Sox about Chris Sale, willing to part with Giolito and Lopez for the ace lefty but unwilling to include Trea Turner in a deal.
What’s to stop Rizzo from trying to stir up similar conversations with the Diamondbacks, Mariners or Indians right now? Well, for one thing, he doesn’t have nearly the farm system he did only two years ago.
Back then, Giolito was still considered among the top pitching prospects in baseball, not the proud owner of a 5.48 ERA in 43 career big league starts, as he is today. López was a hot commodity as well. Trouble is, the Nationals don’t have any comparable pitchers in their system now.
The well known prospect publications haven’t unveiled their full 2019 rankings yet, but only two Nats pitchers even cracked the top-100 of any list entering this season: Seth Romero and Erick Fedde. Both have seen their stock fall, especially Romero (who, after starting his season late because he couldn’t follow organizational rules. proceeded to tear his elbow ligament and needed Tommy John surgery).
The Nationals do have two elite position players who were near the top of the prospects list this year, but neither of them is going anywhere anytime soon. Juan Soto is one of the best young hitters in the sport and will be a centerpiece of the Nats lineup for years to come. Victor Robles is by no means a sure thing, but he remains virtually untouchable within the organization and might well be the team’s opening day center fielder.
Beyond that, the best young talent the Nationals would have to offer in a trade would be infielder Carter Kieboom (who was solid in the Arizona Fall League but could wind up the starting second baseman in D.C. sometime next summer), 18-year-old infielder Luis Garcia (who hit .298 at two levels of Single-A this season) and 23-year-old outfielder Daniel Johnson (who, after a breakthrough 2017, took a step back this year).
Are those the kind of blue chip prospects who could be packaged together to land the likes of Greinke or Kluber? Probably not.
Maybe there’s more of an under-the-radar trade lurking out there, something more along the lines of the Fister-for-Lombardozzi-Krol-Ray deal from 2013. That would qualify as a Mike Rizzo special.
But if you’re hoping for a winter blockbuster that sets the baseball world ablaze, you may end up disappointed. Unless there are some less-publicized but still-coveted prospects in the Nationals farm system, they’re going to have a hard time landing one of the star players potentially available via trade this winter.