Washington Nationals: Before-season trade deadline preview

It happens every summer and although this season will start later than usual, there will most certainly be a trade deadline in 2020. So baseball fans…. get excited, be ready and follow your favorite baseball writers on Twitter, because the buzz at this year’s deadline could be BIG.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and the lack of baseball in our lives despite the calendar changing from March-to-April, there is at least one thing everyone can still get excited for – Trade Deadline Drama.

As for the Washington Nationals, in particular, they could be on either side of the buying or selling fence come deadline time. They’re in one of the toughest divisions in baseball and despite being the defending World Series Champions, their path to the playoffs is far from a cakewalk. Therefore, we’ll look at both scenarios that the Nationals may find themselves in…

Scenario 1: Nationals competing for NL East crown

If we get to July/August – whenever the trade deadline will be once the season begins – and Washington is in first, second or third place in the division with a winning record, they’ll likely look to add a piece or two to bolster their push to the postseason. Given the state of the team’s roster and potential trade options from around the league, the following may wind up in the District by season’s end:

https://twitter.com/NBCSNationals/status/1204977940393533440

Kris Bryant, 3B (Chicago Cubs) – The Nationals were rumored to be involved in trade talks surrounding the three-time All-Star third baseman this past offseason, but talks fizzled out. Kris Bryant, 28, would be a major upgrade over all of the current players vying for time at third in Washington. In five seasons with the Cubs, he’s batted .284 with 138 home runs and 403 RBI, while committing 77 errors across six positions. He comes at a significant cost, however, as he is owed $18.6 million in 2020 and will likely earn more in 2021 through arbitration.

Justin Turner, 3B (Los Angeles Dodgers)Justin Turner, 35, is in his final year of a 4-year, $64 million contract with the Dodgers. He has flipped the script on his career at the plate while manning the hot corner at an elite level since joining L.A. In six seasons out West, he’s batted to a .302/.381/.506 slash line with 112 home runs and 383 RBI, while committing just 49 errors at third base. His contract has no options tied to it, making him a free agent after the 2020 season.

Blake Treinen (RP) (Los Angeles Dodgers) Blake Treinen, 31, signed a 1-year, $10 million contract with the Dodgers in December 2019 after a disappointing campaign with the Oakland A’s a season ago. The right-handed hurler was in the Nationals organization from 2013 to 2017, where he made 185 appearances, saving four games in eleven opportunities. In his second stint with Oakland, he became an elite closer, saving 38 games with a 0.78 ERA across 68 appearances in 2018. If he can get back to form in 2020 and he becomes expendable in L.A., the Nationals could reunite with him down the stretch.

It would seem that if the Nationals have a weakness that they need to patch up, it would at second or third base or in the bullpen. If they can trade to resolve that weakness, they will. If there’s no trade fit, they may be able to look at available free agents who would come at a low-cost.

Scenario 2: Nationals struggle early, concede to others

Alternatively, if Washington comes out of the gate slow again in 2020 and cannot rebound, they may look to trade-off a piece or two in hopes of getting a minor league player to help the team in the coming years. If this is the case, the following current Nationals may be dealt prior to or at the deadline:

Sean Doolittle, CP – Doolittle, 33, is owed $6.5 million in 2020 before he enters free agency next winter. Similar to Treinen’s case, if Doolittle can bounce back to form after an up-and-down 2019 season, he could be moved if the right deal is presented to general manager Mike Rizzo. Even with only half a season remaining on his contract at the deadline, many postseason-bound teams would pay high-value for a pitcher of Doolittle’s caliber to solidify the back-end of their bullpen.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 26: Howie Kendrick #47 of the Washington Nationals flips his bat after being walked against the San Diego Padres during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on April 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Howie Kendrick, UTILHowie Kendrick, 36, was re-signed to a 1-year, $6.25 million contract this offseason with the Nationals. With the additions of Eric Thames and Starlin Castro in free agency and others vying for playing time in the infield, Kendrick could be expendable by summer’s end. He’s still playing at a high level for his age, but his defensive abilities and speed are dwindling, making him a perfect trade candidate for an American League team in the playoff hunt.

Max Scherzer, SP – Though it seems unfathomable that the Nationals could deal one of the best pitchers in baseball, it’s worth having him on this list. Max Scherzer, 35, will be a free agent following the 2021 season and would land Washington quite the haul in return. The likelihood of a trade for Scherzer being agreed upon is extremely slim because of the money he’s owed – $35.9 million in 2020 and $34.5 million in 2021. That said, an ace with a year left on his contract may be attractive to teams with high payrolls and money to spend.

Starlin Castro and/or Asdrubal Cabrera, INF – Castro, 30, and Asdrubal Cabrera, 34, will both see significant time in the infield when the 2020 seasons gets underway. As previously noted, the infield is crowded with players who will be sharing playing time relatively evenly, making either or both of these veterans valuable options at that deadline. They’re low-cost alternatives to teams who may miss out the Bryant’s and Turner’s of the baseball world. Castro is owed $5 million in 2020 and $7 million in 2021; Cabrera will get $2.5 million this season.

Adam Eaton, OFAdam Eaton, 31, is coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 15 home runs but saw a slight dip in his batting average and on-base percentage. It was also the first season since 2016 that he played in more than 100 regular-season games. Eaton is owed $9.5 million in 2020 and has a team option for 2021 that would pay him $10.5 million. His speed – 15 stolen bases and seven triples in 2019 – alone makes him a valuable option for teams in need of a corner outfielder down the stretch.

Obviously, there is one other option – Washington could choose to stay flat and make zero moves at the deadline. The only foreseeable way that this would happen is if the team has fired on all cylinders leading up to the deadline and they were not just winning the division, but dominating it. Given the competition within the Nationals division, this is very unlikely.

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