WASHINGTON -- The Nationals returned the majority of their players from the 2019 World Series championship roster this season. Approaching the Trade Deadline, though, the lineups look a lot different than last year.
The first changes came when Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross elected not to play this year. Then, injuries followed. Starter Stephen Strasburg required season-ending surgery to alleviate carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand, and late-inning reliever Sean Doolittle struggled, landing on the IL with right knee fatigue after his ERA ballooned. Among the other ailments, first-year National and starting second baseman Starlin Castro broke his right wrist.
The veteran-heavy Nationals have worked through injuries by turning to their prospects at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., to help fill voids. Infielder Luis García (No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), right-hander Wil Crowe (No. 5) and left-hander Seth Romero (No. 11) already made their Major League debuts this season.
Among the ups and downs of the lineup, Juan Soto has been a consistent force. After beginning the season on the COVID-19 IL, the left fielder quickly made up for lost time, setting himself apart as the best all-around hitter in the game. Only 21, Soto headlines the Nationals’ young talent for years to come.
An important wrinkle to this year’s Trade Deadline is that teams can only trade players who are part of their 60-man player pool (assigned either to the big league team or the alternate training site). Clubs are permitted to include players to be named later in trades, however. Additionally, scouts have not been allowed to attend games in person, so all assessments of prospects have been done based on provided video and data and past knowledge.
Buy/sell/hold: Buy, if the asking price is right. The Nationals are eyeing a competitive push post-Deadline to defend their title. They aren’t going to give up their prospects just for the sake of it, but if they can get a piece to help them toward their playoff goals, they could entertain the offer.
“We’re still assessing where we’re at in the Deadline,” general manager Mike Rizzo said on Sunday. “Suffice to say, we’re comfortable with our rotation right now. That doesn’t mean that we’re not looking, and if a deal suits us we won’t make a deal -- we’re always on the look to improve our ballclub. But we’re excited and happy about the prospects of our rotation -- not only for this year, but for years moving forward.”
What they want: The starters have struggled at points to go deep into games, and the bullpen arms have been tasked with throwing significant frames. Erick Fedde, who had been an option for a long man, was moved into the starting rotation in place of Strasburg. Another reliever who can throw for stretches of innings could help alleviate the workload. The bullpen is down to one left-hander after injuries to Doolittle, Sam Freeman (60-day IL, left flexor mass strain) Roenis Elías (60-day IL, left elbow flexor strain) and Romero (10-day IL, broken right hand). The only southpaw among the group is No. 24 prospect Ben Braymer, who was recalled on Monday and has yet to make his big league debut.
What they have to offer: The Nationals have depth in the outfield. With Adam Eaton (right), Victor Robles (center) and Soto (left) locked into starting roles, Michael A. Taylor can play all three positions. He has appeared in 16 games this season, recording two home runs and four RBIs. Taylor is earning a prorated $1.23 million this season, and he is arbitration-eligible for a fourth time this winter. Additionally, Andrew Stevenson is at the alternate training site. He started two games in place of Soto, and he has been utilized as a pinch-hitter over his career as well. Stevenson's prorated 2020 salary is $210,593.
Chance of a deal: 75 percent. The Nationals are competing to repeat as World Series champions. Injuries have struck their roster, but if they can find enhancements on the trade market, new additions could boost their playoff outlook.