What does the future hold for Jesse Winker in Washington?

A former 2021 All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds who was on the verge of being out of baseball before this year, outfielder Jesse Winker is making the most of his last chance. How does he fit into the long-term plans of the organization?
Jesse Winker after his Grand Slam against the Marlins on Saturday.
Jesse Winker after his Grand Slam against the Marlins on Saturday. / Brennan Asplen/GettyImages

For a club mired in a rebuild like the Washington Nationals, it's never too early to look ahead to the trade deadline and try to figure out what kind of assets we could be looking to add to our farm system for the future. On the current roster alone, the Nats have numerous players on 1-year deals signed this offseason including Joey Gallo, Eddie Rosario, Matt Barnes, Dylan Floro, and Nick Senzel, who all realistically could have new teams after the deadline, whether it be via trade or other avenues. However, in this article, I took the time to give props to the career resurgence of left fielder Jesse Winker, and what's next for him in DC.

Back on February 12th, 2024, the Washington Nationals inked 30-year-old Jesse Winker to a minor-league deal, and invited him to Spring Training. It was largely thought by many that he would have a decent chance of making the team as long as he showed some flashes at the plate, which he did. Winker knew it was likely going to be one of the last chances he would have in his career to be able to prove to the rest of the league that he could replicate his breakout 2021 All-Star campaign with the Cincinnati Reds.

During that 2021 season with the Reds, Winker slashed .305/.394/.556 with a .949 OPS, to go along with 24 homers and 71 RBIs. While all of these numbers were career-highs across the board, it appears as if he could be off to a similar type of season again this year, as through 26 games, Winker has accumulated a batting line of .286/.400/.451, good for an .851 OPS with 3 homers and 13 RBIs. This, combined with some solid defense in left field, has given the 30-year-old Winker a chance to be a featured member of the Nats lineup, slotting in as the 2nd or 3rd hitter in the lineup every day, and a very likely trade chip at the deadline. He has had some really nice moments so far for the Nats, none better than the first Grand Slam of the season for the 2024 Nationals.

In terms of answering how Jesse Winker fits into the big picture with the organization long-term, the short answer is that he really doesn't. While I want to make it clear that I am loving every second of Winker's resurgence and veteran presence in the clubhouse, the reality is that he just doesn't fit in with the timeline of the Nats for their future, primarily due to his age and position. With James Wood coming up sooner than later and guys like Dylan Crews and Robert Hassell III hopefully not much farther behind in the outfield, the deadline seems like the most opportune time to be able to unload Winker onto a contender, assuming the Nats are mostly faded out of the playoff picture by then.

What would an ideal trade package look like for Jesse Winker? Well, assuming that the Nats are out of the playoff picture, there are some previous examples that Mike Rizzo & co. can use to form the framework of a potential deal. The first would be to look back on the Jeimer Candelario deal between the Nats and Chicago Cubs last year, when he was dealt to Chicago for their 16th and 17th ranked prospects in shortstop Kevin Made and lefty pitching prospect DJ Herz. In 99 games with the Nats before being dealt, Candelario accumulated a .258/.342/.481 line, good for an .823 OPS with 16 homers and 53 RBIs. Winker is on pace to have numbers similar to those of Candelario last year, and if he can keep up his surprisingly solid defense in left field, he will find himself to be a sought after piece here in a few months.

Another few frames of reference I looked at was the slew of outfielders (minus Eddie Rosario) that were acquired by the Atlanta Braves in 2021 that completely revitalized the team and ultimately helped propel them to a World Series title. First, the Braves acquired outfielder Joc Pederson from the Cubs for Atlanta's 15th overall prospect, first baseman Bryce Ball. Then, outfielder Adam Duvall was acquired from the Miami Marlins in exchange for C Alex Jackson, the 16th overall prospect in the Braves system. Finally, outfielder Jorge Soler was acquired from the Kansas City Royals for pitching prospect Kasey Kalich, the 26th overall prospect in the Atlanta system.

All of these cases serve as examples that if Jesse Winker continues to keep up this pace for another few months, the Nats will have a very good opportunity to add a player or two to their Top 30 Prospects list. Some teams I would identify as early fits for Winker would be the Dodgers, Phillies, Rangers, and every team in the AL Central except for the Chicago White Sox. All of these teams are experiencing difficulties in an outfield spot thus far due to injuries or ineffectiveness and figure to be apart of or at least in contention for the postseason. I will say that I am really starting to like what I'm seeing every game from Jesse Winker, and will ultimately be a little bit disappointed if/when he's dealt this summer. But for now, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride, "WHOOPEE!" - Kevin Frandsen (volume on for the clip below).

Do you think Jesse Winker will be a legitimate trade chip at the deadline? What kind of package do you think he could get? Please let me know on X @DCBerk.

All stats in this article were provided by Baseball Reference.