The Nationals are going to be sellers this week, of that there can be no doubt at this point. If it wasn’t already clear after Sunday’s walk-off loss in Baltimore, it surely was after Monday’s walk-off loss in Philadelphia.
But there are different approaches to selling at the trade deadline, and that’s where the real intrigue comes in as general manager Mike Rizzo starts fielding phone calls from his counterparts across baseball and decides how to proceed.
Are the Nats just selling veterans on expiring contracts? Are they selling big-name stars who have been here for many years? Are they selling players who are under club control beyond 2021?
This is what Rizzo must figure out before 4 p.m. Friday. And truth be told, it’s not as simple as it sounds. There are a lot of players who could find themselves in the mix, and a lot of scenarios Rizzo and the rest of the front office need to explore.
Here, then, are the various possibilities, from the most obvious candidates to be dealt to the less obvious ones ...
* The complimentary veteran players
There are probably three guys who should realize by now their time in D.C. is about to come to an end. They are Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson and Josh Harrison. Three veterans who hold prominent roles on this club and were supposed to help the Nationals win in 2021, now all but certain to be trying to help some other team win in 2021 before becoming free agents over the winter.
Hudson has been awfully good this season, with a 2.20 ERA, .092 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in only 32 2/3 innings. He is an experienced reliever in high-leverage spots, isn’t fazed to be summoned to pitch out of a jam and has even closed out some of the most important games you could ever wish to close out.
Harrison’s value comes from his versatility. The Nats have already used him at second base, third base, left field, center field and right field this season, and he even played a little first base last season for the first time. He’s just a good, solid ballplayer that could help any team in any number of ways.
Hand should be one of the most coveted relievers on the market, but he’s suddenly become a mess since the All-Star break, either blowing the save or taking the loss in four of his last five appearances. He may no longer bring the kind of return Rizzo would’ve hoped for, but there should still be a contender out there who wants an experienced lefty and is willing to give up something for him.
* The bigger names who might be free agents at season’s end
Obviously, this list starts with Max Scherzer. One week ago, the notion of the Nationals trading away their ace, the man who probably will be the first to be inducted into Cooperstown with a curly W cap on his plaque, sounded far more theoretical than plausible. Now, though, there’s no denying the very real possibility it could happen. It still won’t be easy, because it still requires Rizzo getting an offer he deems acceptable, principal owner Mark Lerner signing off on it and Scherzer himself agreeing to a trade because of his veto rights as a player with 10 years of big league service time (the last five with the same club). But sources familiar with Scherzer’s thinking say he wants another crack at a World Series title, and if the opportunity was presented to him to join a team he believed could win a championship, he would accept it. Whether Lerner and his ownership group are willing to do it remains the biggest question.
(One other note about a potential Scherzer trade: He’s still owed roughly $11 million this season, plus $105 million in deferred money, set to be paid in $15 million annual installments every July from 2022-28. That contract would go with him to a new team. But in all likelihood, any team interested in acquiring him would insist on the Nationals paying the vast majority of that sum (if not all of the deferred money.)
There are others besides Scherzer who fall into this category, though. Kyle Schwarber (if healthy) would be a nice addition to someone’s lineup. And though he and the Nats have an $11.5 million mutual option for 2022, it seems highly unlikely he’d pick up his end of the deal because he’d know he could do better as a free agent.
Yan Gomes also would have value, also once he’s healthy again. The Nationals love him, but good catchers are hard to come by, and Rizzo would have to listen to offers for Gomes, who will be a free agent this winter.
* The big names who are under club control beyond this season
This is where Trea Turner’s name suddenly springs to the forefront. To be sure, the Nationals aren’t trying to trade him. But Rizzo wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t find out what he could get in return for one of the best all-around players in the sport. Because he can’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season, the asking price can be much, much higher than it is for the others. And perhaps nobody else will bite at that opportunity. But if the Nats are fully committed to a full-scale, long-term rebuild, they would be foolish not to look into the possibility.
Again, though, it’s not just Turner. Josh Bell fits into a similar category, because he can’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season as well. Juan Soto? He can’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. He’s not going anywhere at this point.