The Washington Nationals haven’t sold at the trade deadline since 2011, when they unloaded Jerry Hairston and Jason Marquis (while actually acquiring Jonny Gomes) in separate deals. They haven’t traded actual assets at the deadline since 2010, when Matt Capps was traded for Wilson Ramos and Cristian Guzman was dealt for Tanner Roark.
But that may be changing this summer, mere months before Bryce Harper hits free agency. On the day the Nationals put Stephen Strasburg on the DL (again), it’s being reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo that the team might look to sell off some of their impending free agents (not including Harper, of course) at the deadline.
Sources: The Washington Nationals have started discussions with teams to gauge interest if they decide to sell. Of particular interest are Kelvin Herrera, Shawn Kelley and Ryan Madson, three free-agent-to-be relievers. Nats are telling teams they’ll know by end of weekend.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 26, 2018
For as much as I want to roast the Nats for this, it makes sense! The three players mentioned by Passan, Kelvin Herrera, Shawn Kelley, and Ryan Madson, are all free agents after the season, and all have been maddeningly inconsistent in 2018. Herrera’s strong 3.29 ERA as a National (following a trade from the Royals last month) hides an unsustainable 95.2% strand rate, a declining strikeout rate, and an increasing walk rate. Kelley’s been great with a 2.67 ERA and the best walk rate of his career this season, but is one season removed from a dire 7.27 ERA, injury-plagued season. Madson looks more like the pitcher from 2016 with middling walk and strikeout rates than the lights out fireman he was in 2017. Trading all of these guys makes sense, given that they haven’t had great years and are all free agents.
Trading the three of them is something of a half measure, but the Nats really can’t go into a full-blown sell-off right now. Their only other free agents this winter are Harper, Daniel Murphy (who has stunk in the 33 games he’s not been on the DL this season), Matt Wieters (who has stunk), Jeremy Hellickson, Gio Gonzalez, Mark Reynolds, and Matt Adams. Harper would get you a decent bounty (naturally), but Gonzalez might, Murphy probably wouldn’t, and bench bats like Reynolds and Adams wouldn’t bring in much of a return (but really, should probably be dealt anyway). Their only free agents after 2019 are Brandon Kintzler, Anthony Rendon, and Tanner Roark, with Rendon the only one of the three that would bring a decent enough return.
Despite the fact there are plenty of relievers on the market, the best ones (Zach Britton, Joakim Soria) are already off the market, and the returns for each of those players show that Washington might actually be able to cash in if they want to move any of their free agents to be. Whatever the Nationals decide to do, they’re going to need to make a decision soon. They’re seven games back of the Phillies in the NL East and 5.5 games back of the Braves in the race for the NL’s second Wild Card (with a whopping five teams between them and Atlanta). The Nationals’ next six games are against the woeful Marlins and Mets, but things get quite tough after that in August, with six against the Phillies, four against each of the suddenly plucky Reds, Cardinals, and Braves, and three with the Cubs.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Nationals will finish under .500 this year (especially if their current rotation of Scherzer, Gonzalez, Hellickson, Roark, and Tommy Milone is still rolling along in mid to late August), and if that happens, they will have regretted not moving players that won’t be a part of the next great Nationals team.