Washington Nationals: The Josh Bell Situation

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 29: Josh Bell #19 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the Philadelphia Phillies during Game One of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on July 29, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 29: Josh Bell #19 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the Philadelphia Phillies during Game One of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on July 29, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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A pending free agent and slashing .342/.434/.504, the Nationals need to make a decision and fast on what they are going to do with Josh Bell.

The Washington Nationals big league club as a whole has not been great to watch, but Josh Bell is one of the few shining stars this year. He is only under team control for the rest of 2022 and that has been a focus of fans who either fall on the keep or trade side. Let’s take a look at both arguments.

Keep Josh Bell

The main argument for keeping a guy hitting who is currently putting up some of the best offensive numbers in baseball is a pretty simple one. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. He has done a great job proving that he is a great hitter and that the slow start of 2021 was not the real Bell for the Nationals.  Extending him would in theory keep another big bat around Juan Soto and his age could mean that he would be helpful when this team is competing again.

He is doing his job, could help in the future, shouldn’t break the bank, would likely return a qualifying offer draft pick if he leaves (If the QO rules remain) and would keep a lot of fans happy. It seems pretty simple but there are so many more things that could alter the future of this club that go into the argument of trading him.

Trading Josh Bell

This seems like the most likely outcome as if the team truly wanted to extend Bell they would have engaged in talks this offseason. Rizzo spoke to reporters at the beginning of spring training and told them the team’s stance on the situation.

“Josh Bell is a guy that we really like, we made a trade for,” Rizzo said. “We’re concentrating on seeing if we can get something done with Juan Soto first. Like I said before, he’s our No. 1 priority, and we’re going to try to attack that one before we move on to anybody else.”

Well if you can’t already tell the chances of getting a Soto deal done before Bell hits free agency are not high. I fully expect Josh Bell to at least hit free agency, which means the Nats should explore trade offers and take the best one.

The Return

No, the Nationals will not get two top 50 prospects for Josh Bell, and likely won’t even sniff two top (or one) 100 prospects. But that does not mean the team cannot get a lot of value in return. There are two trades from the 2021 trade deadline that could offer a peek into what the Nationals could expect. The Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo for 18-year-old outfield prospect Kevin Alcantara and RHP Alexander Vizcaino. They both immediately slotted in the Cub’s Top 10 prospects at #6 and #9 respectively.

The other trade that we should look at is the Nelson Cruz trade. Cruz was sent to the Rays for RHP Joe Ryan and a minor league pitcher. Ryan immediately became the Twin’s number 6 prospect and now has a 1.63 ERA through 5 starts with Minnesota’s big league club in 2022. Josh Bell is currently outperforming both Cruz and Rizzo and if that continues the Nationals could expect an extra lottery ticket or two in return. The main pieces of a potential return for 3 months of Josh Bell likely won’t be too different. A fringe top 100 guy is the likely outcome.

I am sure Mike Rizzo would jump quickly at the chance to add a guy like Joe Ryan to their rotation next year. He would also probably like to add a guy like Alcantara who was tearing the complex league apart at the time of the trade. Alcantara’s arrival will be a few years down the road but he has tons of potential.

Potential Suitors

So who may want a 1B/DH type guy in Josh Bell this July and who could the potential centerpieces in the return be? Well, the first place we should look to is our old blue friend in LA. They definitely don’t need a 1B after adding Freddie Freeman this offseason but as we know they are always looking to improve and their DH spot has not been the best. The Nationals could potentially get a guy like Landon Knack or Nick Nastrini from the Dodgers to help bolster their future rotation plans.

Knack would be an ideal centerpiece as he’s got great stuff with a fastball that touches 100 and is getting close to the bigs. Health is certainly a concern, but if he can stay healthy he’s got the potential to help the rotation soon. Knack along with a couple of lottery tickets from the Dodgers system would be a very solid return for the Nationals.

The Twins have also not looked great at the 1B/DH spot and there is no telling what Alex Kirilloff may do when he returns. If the Twins are looking to capitalize on the one guaranteed year they have with Carlos Correa maybe they would be willing to move a guy like Simeon Woods Richardson (SWR) or Matt Canterino. Both pitchers are pitching very well in 2022 and are close to the bigs. Obviously, the guy I would want would be SWR — his fastball sits in the mid-90s and he’s already got a plus changeup.

Finally, the Tampa Rays could look to add a big bat for the second year in a row. As previously mentioned, last year they traded Ryan to bring in Cruz. At the time Ryan was not a top 100 prospect, but he was outpitching plenty of them. Now he is pitching very well for the big league club in Minnesota. This may boil down to being a pie in the sky trade idea, but If the Rays are desperate enough and Josh Bell continues to hit at this rate it may just work. For this trade, the Rays would send back INF prospect Xavier Edwards and RHP prospect Seth Johnson. They are the 8th and 9th ranked prospects in their system. This may seem like a high ask, but they both come with immense talent and some issues.

Edwards does not really fit into today’s game as there is no power attached to him, but he is extremely fast and has a great contact tool. Edwards is also just one of many Tampa Bay infield prospects and they have just added Carlos Colmenarez and Carson Williams who they seem to be very high on. Edwards has never hit below .300 at any level and he would add another promising piece to this Nats rebuild.

Johnson is 23 and only at High A. He was a former shortstop which explains why the Rays are taking it slow with him. The biggest problem with him is that he is going to be Rule 5 eligible this season and will likely have to be tucked away on a 40-man until he is ready. The Nationals may need to add some lower-level pieces to get this move done. I am sure the Rays would love to take on some of our less polished lower-level arms and work their Rays magic on them.

You’ll notice that there are no current MLB Pipeline top 100 prospects in any of these packages. While that may not make people happy, it is the reality of prospect value in 2022. Top prospects are gold in baseball today. Look at the Scherzer trade from last year. 3 Months of a Hall of Famer and 1 year and 3 months of Trea returned 2 top 100 prospects and lottery tickets. The two similar trades involving a DH/1B guy from last year returned zero top 100 prospects. The odds of three months of Bell returning a top-level guy really are not that high. Thankfully the Top 100 list really has never been more than a suggestion of value and the Nationals should expect to receive some good value in return.

There will certainly be other teams that pop up but a return like this is what the Nationals can expect for a rental like Bell in 2022. I expect them to go after a near-ready arm with Bell and they should be able to find it. Ideally, they use this draft to focus on offense and this deadline to bring in some pitching depth to add more fuel to the rebuild fire.

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