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Looking at the Washington Nationals’ needs in the run-up to the trade deadline...

Who will be left to build around Juan Soto?

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

With General Manager Mike Rizzo and field manager Davey Martinez secure in their jobs for another year, the Washington Nationals’ leadership duo clearly has the green light to continue with the reboot Rizzo began almost a year ago.

Current regulars like Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, and Lane Thomas are among the players who came to Washington last year in the flurry of deadline deals that leveraged the veteran core of an aging team for prospects and promise.

With the supposed goal of building a team that Juan Soto would sign a long-term deal with before he becomes a free agent in 2025, Rizzo and Martinez found appropriate roles for all, and built a team that could again transform by this year’s Aug. 2 trade deadline.

As he did prior to last season, Rizzo signed veterans to one-year deals that would make them ideal to flip if they played well enough in the first half.

Rizzo also said this month that he’d like to “maximize the players at least with expiring contracts.”

Of the players agents signed for this season, Nelson Cruz, César Hernández, and Maikel Franco have all shown some value.

The 29-year-old Josh Bell (.308/.389/.497), acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2021 season, and 42-year-old Cruz (.240/.322.363) have carried the offensive load so far this season, and they share the team RBI lead at 47 (going into play on Sunday).

The pair represent the Nats’ best hope to secure multiple prospects, either separately or in a package deal.

So what might the Nats seek in return for two players who have combined to drive in or score more than half their runs this season?

In losing nine of their last 10 games, they’ve shown needs in almost every phase of the game.

Since start of July, the pitching staff ha s turned in a 5.60 ERA, while the hitters have scored just 26 runs, three or fewer in nine of their 10 games.

Only Patrick Corbin has lasted at least six innings in each of the Nats’ last two turns through the starting rotation. The bullpen blew his seven-inning, one-run start in a 3-2 July 4 loss to Miami, and the offense could not come up with a clutch hit to help him after he lasted six in a 4-3 loss in Atlanta on Saturday.

Josiah Gray’s six-inning, two-run outing against Philadelphia represents the Nats’ only win in that span.

The bullpen also took the loss in Erick Fedde’s six-inning, two-run start July 3 against Miami.

In fact, the Nats’ bullpen has saved just 15 games in 24 opportunities this season, both the fewest in baseball.

While none of the major players in the bullpen right now seems likely to move because of contract status, how many are likely to be a part of a competitive Nationals’ franchise in 2024 and 2025?

Steve Chisek is 36, and beloved Sean Doolittle is 35. Carl Edwards, Jr. and Kyle Finnegan, both 30, and 29-year-old closer Tanner Rainey don’t seem to have that much upside.

With the futures of Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross in doubt, the Nationals could use a starting pitching prospect or even some young relievers.

At the same time, if the Nationals trade the two biggest bats in their order, they’ll also be looking for a first baseman and a designated hitter, and the future is in question for two more pieces of an already thin infield.

Neither the 29-year-old third baseman Franco (.238/.267/.358), nor the 32-year-old second baseman Hernández (.242/.302/.305), is having an especially good year.

They could be attractive as role players, but the value they’d draw seems questionable.

The Nats are committed to Luis Garcia (.307/.314/.445, along with eight errors in 36 games) as their shortstop. Although if they move Hernandez and/or Franco, the versatile 32-year-old Ehiere Adrianza and 35-year-old Alcides Escobar might stick around for the rest of the year if the team doesn’t acquire an infield prospect.

Aside from pitching, the Nats seem likely to build around the 23-year-old Soto in right field, 23-year-old catcher Ruiz, 26-year-old outfielder Thomas, and 22-year-old Garcia.

With needs all over the field and throughout the order, Rizzo would do well to come away with least one prospect who will be major-league ready in the next two years.

The Nats’ trade deadline strategy also might become more clear after the July 17-19 draft, when the Nats will select fifth overall.