The Washington Nationals have clear needs as the trade deadline approaches. Injuries to the rotation and a lack of offensive production out of the catcher spot have thrust the Nats into the trade market seeking an additional starter and catcher who would bolster their lineup.
On Monday evening, the Nats made a trade. It didn’t fill one of the aforementioned holes on the roster, but rather added depth to a position of strength while still keeping enough pieces in the farm system to focus on that list of needs with the trade deadline still six weeks away.
The Nationals acquired 28-year-old closer Kelvin Herrera from the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Blake Perkins and right-handed pitcher Yohanse Morel. Although the team’s bullpen has settled down after a rocky start, President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo and the rest of the front office decided to pounce on a deal that looks almost too good to be true.
Herrera has appeared in 27 games (25.2 innings) this season, posting a 1.05 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 7.7 K/9 with 14 saves. He’s a free agent this upcoming winter and is owed approximately $3.4 million for the rest of the season. Washington has already exceeded the luxury tax threshold, which makes Herrera’s contract easy to take on.
Despite being the closer for the Royals, Herrera will slide into the Nats’ relief corps as a set-up man after multiple reports indicated Sean Doolittle will continue to lock down the ninth inning. If the Nats continue to carry a seven-man bullpen, the group figures to include Doolittle, Herrera, Ryan Madson, Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, Tim Collins and one of either Matt Grace, Shawn Kelley or Wander Suero.
The Nats’ bullpen has been a pretty dependable unit so far this season, compiling a 3.67 reliever ERA that ranks 10th in baseball. Washington didn’t necessarily need to grab another reliever but saw an opportunity to bolster an important position while eliminating the chance of other competitors trading for the best reliever available.
The NL East is much tougher than it’s been in past seasons and both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies appear poised to be buyers in the relief market. By trading for Herrera early, Washington gave itself a better chance at climbing the division standings quicker.
The biggest takeaway from the trade, however, is how many prospects the Nats didn’t need to give up in order to make the deal. Gutierrez is having a fine season at AA-Harrisburg and Perkins figures to be an above-average defensive center fielder, but neither had clear paths to the majors in the foreseeable future.
Prospects such as Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Wil Crowe, Carter Kieboom, Seth Romero and Luis Garcia are the crown jewels of the Nats’ farm system yet none of them will be heading to Kansas City. The front office has made clear in its negotiations for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto that neither Robles nor Soto will be going anywhere, but Crowe and Kieboom appear likely to be dangled out on the market.
The Nationals have won just five of their past 15 games, mostly because their offense has been unable to give their pitching staff any kind of run support.
Washington has been shut out four times during this skid and its catchers have hit a combined .149 — the second-lowest average in the majors in that span.
With several top prospects in tow, Washington has the tools to go out and add a catcher (or perhaps a second baseman) that will create a much deeper lineup. Names such as Wilson Ramos (.782 OPS) and Francisco Cervelli (.895 OPS) will likely be connected to the team as the deadline approaches, among others.
Starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson are on the disabled list, so the team could target some other rotation pieces as well. All this flexibility remains possible because the package Washington gave up for Herrera was so expendable.
If the Nats are successfully able to bolster their roster with some trade deadline acquisitions, Herrera only becomes the icing on the cake. The bullpen wasn’t a particularly glaring issue, but now it can become an elite group to rely on as the Nats chase after the NL pennant.