WASHINGTON -- It was not too long ago that speculation started running rampant about just what the Nationals could acquire if they decided to trade away some of their best players, if they decided to declare this season lost and become sellers at the Trade Deadline.
It took just six weeks to revive the 2019 season in D.C., transforming a team that once appeared to be the biggest disappointment in baseball to one that sits at the break with the third-best record in the National League and holds the top NL Wild Card spot after going 28-11 in its final 39 games entering the All-Star break.
Yet, the Nationals still have a glaring flaw that threatens to derail all their progress, with few reliable arms to pitch out of the bullpen in front of closer Sean Doolittle. The Nationals have been looking for ways to fill that void all season long, after the signing of reliever Trevor Rosenthal in free agency this winter turned out to be a flop, and it’s a position they cannot afford to avoid addressing by the end of the month.
Current status: BUYER
Washington finds itself looking to add before the end of the month, but exactly how it plans to do so will be a little more tricky. The Nationals are intent on remaining under the competitive balance tax, and payroll projections don’t give them much flexibility to add salary at the Deadline. And considering the need to acquire a reliever has become a yearly requirement, the farm system has been depleted a bit in recent years by so many midseason trades from general manager Mike Rizzo.
What they are seeking
The need to address the bullpen has been obvious, often times painfully so, since the start of the season. But it’s not like the Nats haven’t been trying. In fact, Washington has auditioned several veteran relievers who became available in the first half. Three members of their bullpen right now -- lefty Jonny Venters, righty Javy Guerra and 42-year-old right-hander Fernando Rodney -- were all released from other organizations earlier this season before joining the Nats. That trio has pitched well in limited action so far and the Nats have Kyle Barraclough and Justin Miller working their way back from injury. However, none of these options offer the sort of automatic reliever the Nationals want bridging the gap from their excellent starters to Doolittle.
What they have to offer
In past years, the Nats have been reluctant to move their top prospects for a midseason trade, but they have entertained deals for top infielder Carter Kieboom, their top prospect and MLB Pipeline’s 21st-ranked prospect in baseball, in the past. For a reliever with multiple years remaining on his contract, perhaps Kieboom could be used as an attractive trade chip. Or perhaps Michael A. Taylor could rebuild some of his value if he shows promise in the Minors the next few weeks.
It makes sense for the Nationals to go after relievers with years on their contract beyond the rest of 2019, which could put them in the bidding for a reliever such as Padres closer Kirby Yates, White Sox closer Alex Colomé or Royals left-hander Jake Diekman. It would take someone signed after the end of this season for Washington to dangle someone like Kieboom in a trade.