The entire baseball world today makes it way to San Diego, where on Monday the 2019 Winter Meetings open for business. As always, the focus will be on free agents, many of them key members of the Nationals’ championship roster.
But the odds of Stephen Strasburg or Anthony Rendon signing this week probably aren’t great. Agent Scott Boras is still in the preliminary stages of a courtship process with several franchises that could drag on well into the winter.
So perhaps the more likely transaction for the Nationals this weekend would be a trade.
Mike Rizzo has been known to do it. One year ago, while most of Las Vegas was abuzz over the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, Rizzo traded Tanner Roark to the Reds for a hard-throwing reliever named Tanner Rainey. That move proved significant in multiple ways: It opened a spot in the rotation for Aníbal Sánchez, and it paved the way for Rainey to make his mark in the Nats bullpen come October.
Who might be on the trading block this time around? There are a handful of possible candidates who could have value to other clubs and help address other needs in Washington.
The name that stands out the most in this regard is Michael A. Taylor. If it feels like his name comes up as a potential trade target every winter, it’s true. We’ve been having this debate for a while now. But once again the outfielder finds himself in something of a predicament: The Nationals have no starting job for him, and other teams might find him more valuable.
Taylor certainly helped his cause when he stepped in for the injured Victor Robles in the first two rounds of the postseason and delivered in the clutch just as he did in the 2017 National League Division Series. As always, the Nats could find Taylor too valuable to deal away. With Gerardo Parra heading to Japan, he’s the de facto fourth outfielder and would immediately step in if anything happened to Robles, Juan Soto or Adam Eaton.
But Taylor doesn’t come cheap. He’s likely to make somewhere between $3.5 million and $4.5 million next season via arbitration. Are the Nationals going to spend that much on a fourth outfielder, especially when they seem to be going out of their way to keep their payroll under the $208 million luxury tax threshold?
Taylor could be attractive to other clubs who have an opening for a center fielder, and perhaps one of them has something to offer to address one of the Nationals’ needs (bullpen, second base, maybe third base).
Taylor, it should be noted, is now out of options and thus can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. The same applies to three on-and-off members of the Nationals rotation (Joe Ross, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde) and three bench players (Wilmer Difo, Adrián Sanchez, Raudy Read). And that means any of those players could find himself on the trade block this winter.
The Nats did just agree to terms with Difo on a $1 million salary for 2020, but that’s a non-guaranteed deal. Given that Sanchez was on the big league roster as the backup utility infielder for more time this season - and given that he’s still not arbitration-eligible and thus makes a lower salary - Difo might again be squeezed off the big league roster. If another club made Rizzo an offer this winter, he might be willing to accept it.
The re-signing of Yan Gomes also keeps the Nationals’ veteran catching tandem intact for another season and bumps Read out of the picture. Ideally, the 26-year-old could be stashed at Triple-A and remain on-call in case of injury, but the Nats can’t do that to Read anymore because he’s out of options. Again, that could make him expendable in a trade.
The three starting pitchers create a different kind of conundrum. The Nationals like all three right-handers and would want all of them to remain in the organization as rotation help for the inevitable openings that will occur next season. But none can unilaterally be demoted to the minors anymore, and though there could be room for one in the opening day rotation and one in the opening day bullpen, there probably isn’t room for all three.
Would Rizzo be willing to deal away Ross, Voth or Fedde? It would be risky. But young, controllable starting pitchers are awfully valuable, and there’s a chance the Nationals could get something significant in exchange for one of those three.