Washington Nationals Rumors: To add a bat, or not?

If it weren’t for a 22-year-old Bryce Harper in ways emulating Ted Williams‘ age 22 season, it might be difficult to invest fully in a belief that the Washington Nationals are the best team in the NL East. The offense has fallen on hard times at a number of other positions. Ostensibly, Max Scherzer and Harper are why a two game lead exists on the New York Mets as the break comes to a close.

The two’s combined WAR of 10.9 is the highest total between any pitcher/player teammates combined in Major League Baseball right now. The next highest honor goes to Zack Greinke and Justin Turner of the Dodgers (8.5 WAR), but those two are helping contribute to a semi-comfortable 4.5 game lead on the Giants in the NL West.

The Nats rank 14th in MLB for runs scored in 2015. Despite Harper having a career year, it’s not really an improvement from where they were at the break in 2014. Scherzer and Harper are flourishing, but other expected impact players are not. Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman have been notable disappointments in 2015.

Desmond put together three consecutive 20-20 seasons at the plate from 2012-14, never once finishing a season with a batting average below .255. This year, he is staggering greatly. Despite no time missed due to injury, he’s slashing a pitiful .211/.255/.334 with only seven home runs and five stolen bases. His replacement level play has been a huge letdown for the Nationals, and his 20 errors along with a .946 fielding percentage on defense aren’t making things any better.

Zimmerman, once the lifeblood of Washington’s lineup and still only 30-years-old, has a body that appears to breaking down on him prematurely. He appeared in 61 games last season and only 56 so far this year. But even when Zimmerman has played, it has been at a level more representative of a 40-year-old. Like Desmond, he’s fighting off the Mendoza Line with a .209 BA and only five home runs to boot. One benefit of Zimmerman is he could play in the outfield once he returns from the DL. That could create the wiggle room necessary for the Nationals to trade for a first baseman who is producing in 2015.

Dare I say it, but Washington is an injury to Harper away from not making the playoffs. The rotation still has some steam, but Harper being lost for any extensive period of time would be much like what Miguel Cabrera‘s injury is doing the to Detroit Tigers’ playoff hopes. Given that Harper has played in only 73 percent of Washington’s regular season games since the 2012 season, it’s fair to say he hasn’t been the most durable player in his young career.

So, where to look? If the Nats do target a bat, Milwaukee is an obvious place to look. Adam Lind is doing great things at first base and could allow Zimmerman to move to the outfield if acquired. However with he, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon set to return in the next couple of weeks, the Nats may just bide their time.

Truthfully, a lack of production from Desmond and Zimmerman is not the entire picture painting the Nationals’ offensive woes this year. The club currently has four everyday starters on the DL with Zimmerman, Werth, Rendon and center fielder Denard Span. But for reasons of possibly re-visiting time to any of these players with future DL stints coupled with situational hitting in the stretch run and postseason should the opportunity arise, depth is never a bad thing.

The Brewers have a “sellers” sign taped on their back right now. Jon Heyman over at CBS says Lind, outfielders Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra as well as shortstop Jean Segura look to be expendable, amongst others. Lind or Parra both might come relatively cheap as they’re free agents after the season.

There’s no sense supplanting Desmond with someone Segura. Gomez has an additional year of club control on his contract and is one of the more valuable of all Brewers assets, so the Nats would have to send quite a bounty their way and it’s just not necessary with three players capable of playing the outfield set to return from the DL.

Lind is producing at first base the way the Nats brass wishes Zimmerman could be with a .292-15-52 line. He would give Washington strong depth and is an obvious choice for playing time over Zimmerman vs righties. Lind is hitting them at .305/.391/.552 clip this year, while Zimmerman sits at .196/.260/.316.  Should they decide to look elsewhere, what with a present battery of injuries to all areas of the field, utility superstar Ben Zobrist from the Athletics could be another direction.

As the trade deadline creeps up, the Washington Nationals will be an interesting team to watch. With so many key players set to return to the lineup at right around the same time as July 31, it’s a safe bet to assume the club will stand pat and hope for an uptick in production from soon-to-be-healthy veterans. But if Lind or Zobrist could come relatively cheap, would Nats fans flinch at the notion of acquiring one for insurance?