The last two seasons of Nationals baseball have been defined by one particular type of transaction: the trade.
From July 29, 2021 through Aug. 2, 2022, general manager Mike Rizzo made eight deals with other clubs, sending 11 veterans to contenders in exchange for 19 players (all but one of them prospects).
It’s not hyperbole to say those trades completely changed the complexion of the Nationals franchise. Gone were the likes of Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes and others. In were a host of potential young building blocks who remade a barren farm system and have begun to take over the major league roster, including Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, Lane Thomas, Mason Thompson and more.
Now, Rizzo is attempting to supplement that new core group of youngsters with a few free agents who could help fill holes in the rotation and lineup. But is the free agent market his only path to address those needs?
Is it even possible for the Nats to make more trades this winter?
For years, Rizzo jumped at opportunities to fix roster issues with offseason trades. Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span, Doug Fister, Turner, Joe Ross, Adam Eaton, Gomes, Tanner Rainey and Bell all were acquired in trades consummated either in December or January. Those moves proved just as important to the club’s success from 2012-19 as free agent signings were.
The dynamic obviously has changed since then. The Nationals aren’t in a position to give up prospects for big leaguers. They’re no longer in win-now mode. Any deal will prioritize long-term potential over short-term success.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some possible avenues for Rizzo to explore if he’s not finding what he wants on the open market.
Maybe the corner outfielder the Nats covet could be acquired via trade. Maybe a back-of-the-rotation option would be available not for money but for other players.
What do the Nationals have to offer interested teams? The cupboard is a lot barer than it used to be, but there are a few possible trade chips.
The bullpen, as we’ve noted for months now, is as deep as it’s been in a long time. There’s certainly nothing wrong with entering the 2023 season with Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Hunter Harvey, Andres Machado, Thompson and a rehabbing Rainey all returning. But what if one of those relievers could bring something of value in return? We know Rizzo didn’t move any of them at the trade deadline. Maybe he’s willing to move one of them now.
There are fewer options to deal out of the lineup or rotation, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. Though Thomas has emerged as one of the team’s better hitters, what if the Nationals don’t view him as a true piece of the long-term puzzle? Could he fetch something that would help in the bigger picture?
Victor Robles was once so coveted, teams insisted on him being part of trade packages for major league stars like J.T. Realmuto. That’s not the case anymore, but maybe somebody out there still believes in Robles as an elite defensive center fielder who could possibly hit again. What would he bring back in a trade at this point?
The Nats would happily trade Patrick Corbin right now, but that’s more complicated. No club is going to take on all of the $59 million the left-hander is still owed. But is there any chance the Nationals could assume the bulk of the financial burden and convince another team to give up a prospect or two in return?
Maybe these suggested deals are too difficult to pull off. Maybe Rizzo has already dealt away everything of value he had from a once-contending roster.
But as he looks for ways to turn his current roster into a contender again, he’d be wise to at least consider all possibilities, no matter how unlikely they may appear at first glance.