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Five trade targets for the Washington Nationals

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After missing the playoffs in 2018, the Washington Nationals will need to make a splash this offseason. Here are five names they should target on the trade market.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

When the Boston Red Sox topped the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to win their fourth World Series in 14 years, they closed the door on the 2018 campaign and turned the league’s attention toward a highly anticipated offseason.

Of course, the 28 teams not playing in the Fall Classic had already shifted into offseason mode, including the Washington Nationals. A season defined by sluggish performances and missed opportunities only added emphasis to what was already considered an important offseason for the Nats.

The team must balance its desire to drop below the luxury tax threshold with its obvious roster holes to build a contender in the suddenly tight NL East race by next season.

To do so, the Nationals will likely look to the trade market for good value that’d be more expensive in free agency.

Let’s take a look at five players the Nationals should keep their eye on as the offseason progresses. While the team doesn’t have the prospects to make all these deals, each player is signed to a team-friendly contract that would be attractive to Washington.

Robbie Ray

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks haven’t yet signaled they’re starting a rebuild, but face a tough decision this offseason after missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons and losing both A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin to free agency.

Ray, who was originally drafted by Washington before being traded to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal, could be an intriguing option for the Nationals. The 27-year-old lefty is under contract for the next two seasons with arbitration eligibility and finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting in 2017.

Arizona would likely seek a blue-chip farmhand in return for Ray’s services, making Washington’s top infield prospect Carter Kieboom a good candidate for the headliner of two- or three-player package. Kieboom is on the cusp of the major leagues but is blocked in Washington by Trea Turner at shortstop.

Whit Merrifield

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

After finishing fifth in the majors with 119 stolen bases last season, the Nationals don’t necessarily need another threat on the basepaths. But with a Daniel Murphy-sized void at second base, Washington will need another quality bat in the lineup.

In addition to his MLB-high 45 stolen bases, Merrifield posted an OPS of .806 with 43 doubles in 2018. He’s signed through 2022 and is still on his rookie contract despite approaching his 30th birthday in January.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a trade is Kansas City’s willingness to deal him. General Manager Dayton More told Fancred in July that Merrifield “certainly won’t be traded at the deadline” but gave no indication as to his status beyond that.

J.T. Realmuto

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Nats fans have gotten to know Realmuto well thanks to the constant swirling of trade rumors connecting the All-Star catcher to Washington. The Marlins have demanded Victor Robles as the centerpiece for a deal between the two clubs, but the Nationals have balked at parting ways with their center fielder of the future.

If Washington re-signs Bryce Harper, Robles would become expendable and an attractive trade target for almost any team in baseball. The front office may be more inclined to trade their prized prospect if Harper is locked up long-term.

Realmuto is still under contract for two more seasons at arbitration-level prices. The Nats have a surplus of outfielders but little-to-no catching depth. If Washington is willing to trade Robles, this is just a trade waiting to happen.

Raisel Iglesias

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Doolittle has the Nats’ closer job locked down, but the team is in need of late-inning depth and Iglesias has been connected to Washington before. Since the start of 2016, the Cincinnati Reds’ ninth-inning man has racked up 64 saves and a 2.47 ERA in 226.1 innings.

Iglesias, who turns 29 in January, is under contract through 2021 on a cheap deal — especially for a proven closer. If the Nats were to acquire Iglesias, he would form a coveted 1-2 punch alongside Doolittle at the back end of the bullpen.

The Reds have plenty of young bats in their system but saw several young starters struggle on the mound in 2018. Perhaps Washington could dangle one of its former first-round picks Mason Denaburg or Seth Romero. 2017 second rounder Wil Crowe impressed at High-A early this season and could be put on the table as well.

Tony Watson

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco Giants Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If the Nats decide they don’t want to pay the price for Iglesias, they could settle for longtime set-up man Watson. The San Francisco Giants have Watson signed through next season with a $2.5 million option for 2020.

In 72 games last season, Watson posted a 2.59 ERA and career-high 9.8 K/9 across 66 innings in the Bay area. Having just wrapped his age-33 campaign, he’s on the older side but has demonstrated an ability to stay healthy as one of two relievers to appear in 65 or more games in each of the past seven seasons (Tyler Clippard is the other).

All signs point toward San Francisco hitting the reset button thanks to its aging stars and barren farm system, and Watson is an easy choice to ship out the door. Of the five players on this list, Watson appears to be the most likely candidate to don the Curly W by the start of next season.