After a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles followed by another walk-off loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday, the question is no longer whether the Washington Nationals will sell at the MLB trade deadline, it’s what will the sell-off look like?
The likes of Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Harrison figure to be most likely to be dealt with their expiring deals. Yan Gomes and Kyle Schwarber could both move on as well if a team takes a chance on their health. And yes, Max Scherzer could be traded too.
Trading any or all of those players seemingly wouldn’t change the team’s outlook beyond 2021. They are all out of contract at season’s end and could theoretically re-sign in D.C. this winter.
The same can’t be said were the Nationals to consider trading their star shortstop, Trea Turner.
On Monday, Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post reported that the “Nationals are getting a lot of interest in Trea Turner” and that “they haven’t ruled out dealing him, but would need to be presented with a total no-brainer of a deal.”
That’s a pretty significant development that they’re at least considering it rather than just focusing on trading away the players whose contracts are due to expire at the end of the year.
Since the start of 2020, Turner is second in the majors in fWAR behind only Fernando Tatís, Jr. and looks like a borderline MVP candidate at one of baseball’s most important positions.
Why would the Nationals consider trading away one of the best players in the league when he’s not out of contract at the end of the season like the names mentioned above?
Well, the end of his contractual control is looming at the end of next season, and because of his performance in recent seasons, he could be due for a monumental payday either in free agency or if he chooses to sign an extension before reaching that potential gold mine.
This past winter, fellow shortstop Francisco Lindor signed a 10-year, $341 million deal with the New York Mets, effectively setting the market rate for elite shortstops in the majors.
Maybe Turner will exceed that with his next contract, maybe he won’t. At the very least, he has a solid case to beat the annual average value of $34.1 million though, if not the years as he is a year older than Lindor, with how well the Nats shortstop has played recently.
Turner deserves a massive payday in the near future and as the narrative goes, the Nationals are a team that doesn’t shell out on that type of contract for a position player.
Since Mike Rizzo became General Manager, the team has only given a contract longer than two years to a position player three times. Those were to Daniel Murphy before the 2016 season, Jayson Werth, and his huge seven-year deal prior to 2011, and Ryan Zimmerman’s six-year, $100 million contract extension that he signed just before the 2012 season.
The Athletic’s Peter Gammons seemed to imply early on Monday that it didn’t look like Turner would be another exception to the rule when he said he heard that “Washington ownership isn’t going to do anything long term with Trea Turner.”
That brings us to this upcoming trade deadline where the Nationals are in the midst of a lost season, leaving them with Turner potentially for just one more season before he gets the contract he deserves on the free-agent market, barring a late change of heart by the Nats.
With the outlook for 2022 potentially looking bleak too, given some of the contracts still on the books, a Turner trade at the deadline could bring back a franchise-changing haul.
What does that franchise-changing haul look like? It’s difficult to say as there isn’t a recent precedent when it comes to dealing a player of Turner’s caliber and position with a year and a half of club control remaining, not since teams have become more protective of their prospects.
For a borderline MVP candidate at a premium position in his prime, the Nationals could make the case for multiple high-end, consensus top-40 or top-50 prospects in all of baseball. Or a deal that includes a young major leaguer or two who have graduated from prospect status.
Not many contenders can afford that sort of cost, which narrows down the potential suitors.
Would the Seattle Mariners push some chips in and get a significant upgrade on JP Crawford? Maybe the Los Angeles Angels could reunite Turner with his best friend, Anthony Rendon. Could the New York Yankees make raw talent Jasson Dominguez available in a trade? Or are the Cincinnati Reds going to continue to be aggressive in the trade market?
If any of the above becomes true, that might be the starting point to something getting done.
Perhaps the main factor, aside from actually not wanting to trade away their most valuable prospects, that may prevent these teams from shipping out significant prospect capital for Turner is how the rest of the shortstop market could play out this deadline and offseason.
As has been noted for a while, this winter’s shortstop class is one of the best in years with Trevor Story, Javier Báez, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa all set to hit the open market.
Any team interested in Turner to be their shortstop of the immediate future no doubt will have half an eye on those potential free agents as alternatives they could pick up this offseason at no prospect cost. That obviously might make it much harder, if not impossible, for the Nationals to get the prospects they would want for their shortstop at the deadline.
In the end, Rizzo and the rest of the front office need to hold relatively firm on the price they clearly have in mind for Turner. If they don’t get it at the deadline, then they can reassess where they are in the offseason and potentially extend or trade Turner then.
But the fact of the matter is, they need to be open to trading Turner now if the right package presents itself as it could be a franchise-altering return for a franchise that is quickly heading the wrong way...