New year, same old rumors. Even though the Washington Nationals finally made a move yesterday, with the signing of Will Harris, there’s been a lot of thumb-twiddling from fans as they wait for more movement from the defending World Series champions.
It’s good then that it’s been juicy on the rumor-front ever since Daniel Hudson tossed his glove at the visiting dugout in Houston given how much the champs need to accomplish.
After the departure of Anthony Rendon, those rumors have mostly been about third basemen.
All signs suggest that Josh Donaldson is the Nats’ primary target, with GM Mike Rizzo confirming his interest after the press conference to announce Stephen Strasburg’s 7-year/$245M deal.
Though Donaldson is the ideal option, it takes two to tango in negotiations. He’s a man in high demand and could easily end up elsewhere if the price gets too high for the Nationals.
Given that possibility, the latest rumor from MLB.com’s Jon Morosi takes a look at where the Nationals could turn if Donaldson doesn’t sign in the nation’s capital...
#Nats pursuing trade options in case Josh Donaldson signs elsewhere, but sources say they’ve been reluctant to make Victor Robles available in discussions with #Rockies on Arenado and #Cubs on Bryant. @MLBNetwork @MLB— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 2, 2020
With the Chicago Cubs looking to get under the luxury tax, for some reason, there is a very real chance that Kris Bryant could be traded to aid those efforts. And after an awful 2019, the Colorado Rockies are fielding offers for Nolan Arenado as they contemplate a rebuild.
Both would be plug-and-play options for the Nationals as either Arenado or Bryant could simply slide in at third and have a good chance to produce at the same level Rendon did.
However, Morosi’s report indicates that Victor Robles is the center of discussions with both teams. That’s something that is bound to be a non-starter for the Nats, even for those two stars.
This isn’t the first time this offseason that Robles has been brought up in trade speculation on Twitter and it won’t be the last given that he is one of the Nats’ most valuable trade chips in an organization lacking in them as well as the fact the team needs to add an impact bat.
But including him in a deal for Bryant or Arenado just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Last year as a rookie, Robles looked like a potential star, slashing a solid .255/.326/.419 to go with 17 homers and 28 stolen bases while playing a Gold Glove-caliber center field.
That performance on both sides of the ball in 2019 led to an impressive 4.1 bWAR, a figure that was actually higher than Bryant’s 3.6 and not all that far behind Arenado’s 5.7.
Admittedly, that was a down year for Bryant who struggled with injuries and appears likely to rebound in 2020.
However, it illustrates the point that even at his young age, Robles wasn’t far off from being as good on the field as both third basemen.
So getting five years, two of them at the league-minimum, of an already very good and fast-improving Robles is more valuable than two much more pricey years of control for those third basemen — assuming Bryant loses his service time grievance, as expected.
The argument against this is that it’s worth giving up the surplus in value to try and win soon.
But even if you want to make the “win now” argument that they should give up that future value and push as many chips into the middle for 2020 and 2021, seeing as the Nationals’ strength is their aging rotation, that wouldn’t seem to add up either.
Unlike trading a top-tier prospect who hasn’t made it to the majors yet, the Nats would be trading away a player who is already contributing significantly at the major league level.
To consider dealing Robles as a “win now” move, they would need to not only be getting a significant immediate upgrade in whoever they acquire — Bryant and Arenado would likely only be 1-2 WAR better — but also have a ready-made replacement in center field.
Sorry to Michael A. Taylor, but he would be a significant step down from Robles, especially at the plate.
Robles has come up numerous times in trade talks, most notably for J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen, but the Nationals held on and are now reaping the rewards as he and Juan Soto look like an excellent foundation for the franchise’s future.
“[Robles and Soto] are under control for a long time. We have plans for both of those guys. They’re vital pieces of our organization,” GM Mike Rizzo told Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington at the Winter Meetings.
“They’re players that in the past were highly sought after in trades. There was a lot of discussion in the analyst world that thought we should package some of those guys up and trade them away. We refused to do it because of the character and the skill set that they have. They’re going to be vital members for us for a long time.
“We’ve talked to both of them about their future. They know their future is bright with us. We couldn’t be happier that they’re growing up with us right in front of our eyes. We’ve got a plan in place for all of our players. Those two guys are very vital parts of our organization.”
Why would the Nats pivot from this now, especially as he’s taken a giant first step to becoming a potential All-Star? They won’t, not unless something crazy comes along.
Now, maybe it’s walking back the headline a little bit, but there are a handful of scenarios where the Nationals could theoretically see themselves dealing away Robles.
One of those is virtually any trade with the Los Angeles Angels for Mike Trout. I think we’re safe to chalk that one off the list of realistic options though, but we can pray.
Another scenario might be if Arenado were to waive his opt-out clause after the 2021 season, meaning he would be under contract for at least seven seasons.
However, Mark Lerner previously claimed the Nats “couldn’t afford” both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, meaning staying under the luxury tax threshold seems to be the goal.
No, they shouldn’t be worried about that tax, but if that is indeed the goal, then it wouldn’t make sense to then give up incredibly valuable players like Robles and trade for the full salary of a player who is earning just $2.5 million less than their former third baseman is in LA.
So the only way that would work is if the Rockies were to then pay down a sizable chunk of Arenado’s future salary, only increasing the prospect-cost to acquire him, while also slightly defeating the objective to clear a lot of salary with a trade.
The likelihood of any of the trades that would even get the Nationals to consider trading Robles is so remote that none are worthy of realistic considering.
Victor Robles is going to be a big part of what the Washington Nationals plan to do post-World Series triumph. He’s not going anywhere.