With the non-waiver trade deadline hours away, let's have a look at some of the corner infielders & corner outfielders that the Nats may be inquiring about. They did just get some help with players returning from injury, but the Nats may be taking a pretty big risk by relying on them returning to form quickly.
Jayson Werth had yet to look like himself before a broken wrist sidelined him for a few months. Werth looked OK in his first two games back from the injury, but can we expect the 36-year-old to suddenly step back in and produce at his career norms? The same can be asked about Ryan Zimmerman, who certainly didn't look like vintage Zim early this season while he was dealing with Plantar Fasciitis. Is that (typically chronic) injury behind him or is it just a matter of time before it flares up again?
The non-waiver trade deadline presents the Nats with their last opportunity to try and snag a big option to improve (or at least insure against injury/poor production from) those spots in the lineup. While there are still opportunities to pick up players in waiver trades after Friday, the process of finding a big bat usually becomes quite a bit more difficult. Let's have a look at some of the corner guys who might move on Friday and see if we can find someone the Nats may be targeting....
When the Tigers traded David Price, it all but ensured that they'll be moving Cespedes before the trade deadline. Moving Price got the rebuid in motion, and Cespedes is a free agent at year's end. What's more, Cespedes has weird clauses in his contract which will affect his signability. Like all players, Cespedes' current team has exclusive negotiating rights with him for five days after the World Series ends. After that five day period, they're not allowed to make him an offer until May 15 of next season. This means they can't give him a qualifying offer as well, so Detroit can't get a draft pick for him.
The 29-year-old Cuban has light tower power and an outfield arm reminiscent of (for my Expos friends) Vladimir Guerrero or (for Nats fans) Rick Ankiel. He's in the midst of his best season in North America, batting .293/.323/.506 with 18 HR so far in 2015. He'd provide an upgrade over Jayson Werth in left field, and he wouldn't hamstring the payroll beyond the 2015 season.
Cargo has rebounded after a poor and injury plagued 2014 season. The 29-year-old slugger is batting .278/.336/.521 with 21 HR and 17 doubles so far this season. There's never been any question about Gonzalez's ability, but his durability has been a bit of an issue in recent years. He's remained healthy for most of the 2015 season, though, and is reaping the benefits. Gonzalez has big power and has been an exceptional average hitter throughout his career, though he's kind of a free swinger.
After trading away Troy Tulowitzki the other day, the Rockies have made it clear that they're trying to move Cargo before the deadline. He's under contract for two more (expensive) seasons, so it's reasonable to think that Colorado would be willing to send some cash along with him to improve their prospect haul.
Bruce has been linked to the Mets a few times this deadline season, but he's still a guy who could make sense for the Nats to pursue. Like Gonzalez, he's a left-handed power hitter best used in a corner outfield spot. Bruce has provided about the same value that Cargo has this season as well, though they've gotten there differently. Bruce isn't exactly former Nat (and Red) Adam Dunn, but he does lean towards those three true outcomes. His 11.2% walk rate this season has helped make his OBP (.341) look quite a bit more impressive than his batting average (.257).
With Johnny Cueto (Royals) and Mike Leake (Giants) already gone, the Reds figure to be pursuing at least one more trade. Bruce has been rumored to be on the block for most of the past month, while there are still some teams that appear to be in on Aroldis Chapman. He has two pretty reasonable years remaining ($12.5M for 2016, $13M option for 2017) on his conract, so he's going to require a pretty big haul. The latest Mets rumor is that they're discussing Zack Wheeler and another piece (I hope it's not poor Wilmer Flores).
After having cheered against him when he was in Atlanta the past few years, most Nats fans are familiar with Upton. The former #1 overall pick is the prototypical right-handed power hitter. After hitting 56 homers the past two years in Atlanta, Upton is still hitting his fair share of bombs for the Padres this season. He's just not getting very many other extra base hits. He's hit just ten doubles all year for San Diego, leading to an ISO (.189) that's well down from the past two years.
His batting average (.251) is down quite a bit, which seems to be completely due to poor BABIP luck. Upton has a .330 career BABIP and has finished with a BABIP of .319 or higher in every season outside of his rookie year. This year, it's .302. His walk and strikeout rates are nearly identical to the past two years, so part of this may be due to how much Petco Park suppresses offense as a whole (not just the long ball). His line drive rate is down slightly from the past two years, so that's probably also a factor.
Upton is a free agent at year's end, so he wouldn't hamstring the payroll beyond 2015. Unlike the Tigers with Cespedes, San Diego will have the option to give him a qualifying offer (no-brainer), so it's going to take more than the value of a sandwich round pick to acquire him.
Byrd has really reinvented himself at the end of his career. He's having another solid season for Cincinnati, with 17 HR in 318 PA so far this season. Byrd isn't really a complete hitter, as he doesn't draw enough walks or hit well enough for average to contribute much with his on base skills. However, right-handed power off the bench does come in handy.
Byrd has a pretty club friendly $8 million option for next season. It vests at 550 PA (iffy), but becomes a team option if he doesn't reach 550 PA. There hasn't been a lot of buzz about Byrd, though. Among Cincinnati's hitters, Bruce has gotten the most buzz. Cueto and Leake are already gone among the pitchers they had available, and Aroldis Chapman's name has been involved in a number of rumors. Cincinnati would really need to ramp up their rebuild to make holding onto Byrd for next season worthwhile, so I would think that they'd consider moving him.
Reddick has another year of club control, but he appears to be having a career year for the A's in 2015. The 28-year-old lefty .293/.343/.472, which is about 40 points higher than his career triple slash line across the board. Could it be real, though? His .181 ISO seems sustainable (.185 career). His .296 BABIP is higher than it's been since 2011 in Boston, but a .296 BABIP isn't that far out of whack. The big outlier seems to be his strikeout rate, which is 10.2% compared to his 18.4% career rate. Then again, he'd shown significant improvement with the strikeout rate the past few years (22.4% to 19.5% to 15.9% from 2012 to 2014), so maybe some of the improvement is real. I would have to expect that last place Oakland would consider moving him, but that year of club control will drive up the price.
Napoli has had a rough walk year for the Red Sox, batting just .208/.306/.383. He's a prototypical three true outcomes guy, with a 12.4% career walk rate (11.9% this year), a 26.5% strikeout rate (25.5% in 2015), and a .229 career ISO (.175 this year). His ISO is down in the .170's for the second year in a row, which certainly cuts into his value. While Napoli will never be a strong average hitter, he's been kind of bit by the poor BABIP bug this season (.251 compared to .306 career). We've seen the Red Sox do a salary dump before. If he could be had cheap, there are worse guys that the Nats could gamble on......
Hey... I pulled for the guy when he was here, but a $13 million guarantee for next year to an aging first baseman with diminishing returns isn't something that's all that enticing.
Well... If he chooses not to accept the assignment to the minors from the Dodgers.... Nah.
We're getting to the dregs. There's just not a real great market at first base. The Nats could talk to the Mariners about Logan Morrison, but I'm not sure he upgrades the Clint Robinson/Tyler Moore platoon that currently backs up Ryan Zimmerman. I'm not sure the pair of outfield bats that Seattle could consider moving (Mark Trumbo & Austin Jackson) would really improve the Nats much either...... Cleveland has dealt away their corner infield and outfield depth the past few days, sending David Murphy to Anaheim and Brandon Moss to St. Louis... The Rockies would probably listen on Corey Dickerson or Charlie Blackmon, but their asking price on those two cheap stud outfielders will be higher than it will be for Cargo.... The Diamondbacks have four quality outfielders, but the buzz is that they're the team that's now making a run at Aroldis Chapman, and the media speculation is that Cincinnati is looking for outfield help.
Among the options we covered in today's piece, I'd probably say that I like Cespedes the best. The Nats already have a lot of money committed to first base and left field for the next few years. If they do go after someone to play a corner spot, I'd prefer that they didn't pick up a long term deal in the process. Cespedes is going to have quite a few teams after him, so he won't be cheap, but Detroit's inability to give him a qualifying offer could cut their leverage enough so that the bidding doesn't get ridiculous.
While I'd prefer to see the Nats pick up a first baseman rather than an outfielder, the first basemen other than the ones that we've already covered are pretty uninspiring. Sure.. Napoli could be a candidate to bounce back in the second half, but some of his dropoff in performance could be due to age related decline (33 years old, spent most of his career as a catcher).
I have written up three Brewers who might be available separately, and there's a reason for that. I like Adam Lind better than the first basemen that I covered today, and I'm more skeptical of Zim staying healthy than any other spot in the lineup. I also think that Jonathan Lucroy could be a guy who hasn't gotten as much buzz around the league at the deadline as he should. He'd be an outstanding fit for the Nats, who aren't getting much production from their backstops, because he can also play first base.
It's been a crazy few days leading up to the trade deadline. I'm hoping we see some more craziness as the 4 PM deadline approaches. If everyone's 100% come October, the Nats have a pretty strong offense. It just seems really risky to count on some of these players being completely healthy come playoff time.