Washington Nationals: A different deadline strategy

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and left handed pitcher Patrick Corbin answers questions during his introductory news conference at Nationals Park. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and left handed pitcher Patrick Corbin answers questions during his introductory news conference at Nationals Park. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals find themselves in need of bullpen at the trade deadline. They should take a different approach, trade for no one and do this.

Mike Rizzo has been an excellent executive throughout his time with the Washington Nationals.  During his tenure, he has turned the team into a regular-season powerhouse that has won numerous division titles and drafted/signed franchise cornerstones (Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto).  Sure, the team has yet to make it out of the first round of the playoffs but that is part randomness and part bullpen.

That brings me to Rizzo’s Achilles heel during his time with the Nats, his inability to craft a bullpen and the damage he has done making trades.  In an alternate universe, the present-day Nationals would have an elite bullpen and additional length in the rotation and would likely be running away with the NL East crown and be World Series favorites.  Let me explain.

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Like every contender, the Washington Nationals Nationals made moves to upgrade their bullpen at the trade deadline.  In 2015, they brought in closer/teammate strangler Johnathon Papelbon from the rival Phillies.  In 2016, they acquired Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 2017, they acquired Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics.  One other trade of note, the Nats brought in Adam Eaton from the White Socks, who was fresh off 5.9 WAR campaign in 2016.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, trades they have made haven’t gone very well.  With the exception of Doolittle and Eaton, all the other guys they acquired were rentals so their tenure with the Nats was brief and did not result in any notable postseason runs.  All of the following players were either prospects or young major leaguers traded by the Nationals.  It’s a pretty impressive list and while hindsight is 20/20, this still doesn’t look good for Rizzo or the Nats.

Year Traded / Name, Position / fWAR Since Trade
2016 / Nick Pivetta, RHP / 4.3
2016 / Reynaldo Lopez, LHP / 4.1
2016 / Lucas Giolito, RHP / 3.4
2017 / Blake Treinen, RHP / 4.3
2017 / Jesus Luzardo, LHP / 0 (27th overall prospect)
2018 / Felipe Vazquez, LHP / 6.3
2018 / Taylor Hearn, LHP / -0.1 (still only 24)

So that brings us to the 2019 deadline.  The Nats are chasing the Braves and currently sit in a Wild Card spot.  This deadline, instead of trading for relievers, let’s break in some of the older arms in the minor league system as relievers.  They previously tried this with Koda Glover with middling results but unfortunately, he didn’t stay healthy.  This would be a good way to expose them to the big leagues, manage their inning count, and see what they have for the Postseason and next season.

The Washington Nationals have a number of prospects who fit this billing.  Will Crowe is almost 25 and reached AAA this year and has a 2.79 ERA, 52% GB rate, and 22% K rate and is armed with a high-octane fastball. Taylor Guilbeau is another guy in AAA, 25 years old left-hander who runs it up to 96 and generates a bunch of grounders.  Jordan Mills is a side-winding LHP that should be given an opportunity to sink or swim.  RHPs Ronald Peña and Joan Baez are older AAA relievers with explosive stuff and equally explosive walk rates.  Unproven? Absolutely but the odds are good that one of these guys could be an effective bullpen presence for a team that has little certainty outside of Sean Doolittle.

Would you prefer the unknown allure of a prospect or would you rather keep trotting out 42-year-old Fernando Rodney?  Doolittle has been good but Blake Treinen produced an incredible season in relief after being traded to Oakland.  I can imagine one would rather have had anyone else throwing innings besides Madson or Melancon, especially someone who didn’t cost prospects.

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This idea is a little outside the box but the Nats would be better off today if they had taken a different approach during several other trade deadlines.  So instead of going to buy a major relief piece that will cost you part of the future, bring up the future now, throw it against the wall and see what sticks.