Washington Nationals: Mike Rizzo bets on offensive improvements

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WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: General manager Mike Rizzo looks on during batting practice before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: General manager Mike Rizzo looks on during batting practice before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals sent out three prospects for Kelvin Herrera, which limits the likelihood of a deadline trade for an offensive star.

On Monday night, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo swooped in six weeks ahead of the pack to acquire Kansas City reliever Kelvin Herrera for minor leaguers Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins, and Yohanse Morel.

Gutierrez and Perkins were the no. 10 and 11-ranked prospects in the Nationals’ system (now, Gutierrez slots in at no. 8 in the Royals’ organization, while Perkins moves down to no. 15).

Obviously, the Nationals bolstered their bullpen in a big way by picking up Herrera, who was maybe the best reliever on the market this summer. However, the move is also a sign that Rizzo is going all-in with the offensive group he has right now, which currently ranks just 21st in baseball in OPS (.708).

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The Nats have been linked to Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto for months, but never pulled the trigger, as Rizzo was wisely unwilling to part with top prospects Victor Robles and Juan Soto.

Rizzo still wasn’t going to give up either Robles or Soto at next month’s deadline, so the best chance of acquiring Realmuto this summer was throwing a pupu platter of prospects towards the Marlins and hope they bit. And while Carter Kieboom – the Nats’ no. 3 prospect – is still around, some other pieces of the platter were just moved for Herrera.

Now if the Nationals want to go get Realmuto, Rizzo would have to burn down what is left of the farm system, which seems highly unlikely. It’s entirely possible Rizzo makes more moves around the fringes of the roster, but in going to get Herrera and holding on to Soto and Robles, the Nats have used most of their potential trade bullets.

While the Nationals might not have gone after a big-ticket offensive star, their best path to success has always been through internal improvements.

Bryce Harper is batting .185 since April 17 and has just eight hits in June. Anthony Rendon has six home runs in 221 plate appearances. Trea Turner continues to stop and start this season, showing signs of a superstar talent, but hasn’t sustained it for more than a few games at a time.

Daniel Murphy looks to be about 50 percent healthy at best. Inexplicably, the only players hitting right now are the previously left-for-dead Michael Taylor, the recently healthy Adam Eaton, and the 19-year-old Soto.

If those first four players – Harper, Rendon, Turner, and Murphy – return to their expected offensive levels, the Nationals will find themselves in the win column again. Harper is capable of MVP-type performances at the plate; if he turns into a fearsome bat again, Washington will have gotten the best midseason acquisition in baseball.

Harper doesn’t even if have to revert to 2015 primetime Bryce. Simply hitting .270 with power the rest of the way would be enough because the Nationals have a plethora of offensive weapons when healthy and because that’s just how bad Harper has been lately.

Next: Nats acquire Kelvin Herrera

The catcher spot will likely remain a black hole offensively – Pedro Severino is 6 for his last 64 – but small collective improvements from the team’s big guns will make up for what the Nats could have gotten with Realmuto.

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