A few days ago, an article was published on MLBTradeRumors.com floating the idea that any team that is looking to dump salary should be in contact with the Nats. As of right now, the Nats current 2022 projected payroll, including arbitration estimates for players rostered and eligible, is around $136m per Fangraphs. This is the lowest the Nationals payroll has been in YEARS, and they most certainly have the room to add a lot more money to that figure.
At this stage of the game, it is universally agreed by people across baseball that the Nats will not be competing in 2022. This is a year for the club to see what they have in the young guys, as most of them will have the opportunity to play out a full season and deal with any growing pains that may be present since the team will not be actively competing for a World Series. However, this does not mean the Nats should not be busy after the lockout, and some names outside the organization should certainly come into the picture before Opening Day.
So, what exactly do the Nats do with all that open payroll space? Obviously, what nearly every Nats fan wants to see is one of the marquee free agents still on the market sign a lucrative deal to come to the Nation’s Capital. This would be the most logical approach to take even if the team does not plan on competing in 2022, as it builds the team up with a building block for the future and shows Juan Soto that the Nationals will be serious about being an annual competitor again once the reboot is completed. The sad reality, however, is that no one expects the Nats will go out and grab a Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, or other notable name on the free agent market this offseason. This would be pretty disappointing, but as long as the Nationals repurpose this payroll space for another long-term purpose, it can be forgiven.
From the Nationals perspective, having a salary dumped player added through trade makes more sense for them right now at the beginning of a rebuild. If you are unfamiliar with how a salary dump works, essentially the Nationals would be relieving another team of a bad contract they have on their payroll. This is a player on a fairly large contract that has not come close to living up to the deal, either due to injuries or just underperformance. This allows the team that is trading that contract away, which is often considered a contender for the upcoming season, to free up more payroll space to repurpose for other competitive moves. As for the Nationals, they would essentially be eating the rest of the bad contract they just acquired. Again, they are in position to do this since they do not plan on competing for not only 2022, but likely 2023 as well.
You might be asking: what exactly do the Nats gain from this kind of trade? Prospects. And we all know the Nats need as many of them as possible. No team is going to be able to just dump a bad contract to another team for free, it has to come with a price. By taking on more bad contracts to add to their already impressive collection of some of the worst contracts in baseball, the Nats can bolster their farm system even further. With all this being said: let’s take a look at some of these hypothetical trades the Nats could consider:
1. Moose Becomes a Nat After All
Nationals Receive: 2B/3B Mike Moustakas, LHP Andrew Abbott
Reds Receive: OF Yadiel Hernandez, C Drew Millas, RHP Seth Shuman
During the offseason following the 2019 World Series Championship, Mike Moustakas was a possible 3B free agent target for the Nationals to sign should Anthony Rendon depart in free agency. The Reds ended up signing him to a 4-year, $64m contract to play 2B for them, and that contract has been nothing but disastrous for them. After a solid 2019 with the Brewers in which Moustakas slashed .254/.329/.516 with an .845 OPS, 113 wRC+, 35 home runs, and 30 doubles, he struggled big time in Cincinnati. In the shortened 2020 season, he slashed .230/.331/.468 with a .799 OPS and 8 home runs. Decent, but in 2021 he was riddled with injury and just had a miserable 62 games. Moustakas slashed .208/.282/.372 with a .653 OPS, 70 wRC+, and just 6 home runs. His power completely vanished, he was striking out at a career high rate, barreling the ball at a career low rate, and was overall just pretty bad out there.
Again, Moustakas battled injury for most of the season. However, he is set to earn $16m in 2022, $18m in 2023, and has a club option for $20m with a $4m buyout for 2024. These are all in his age 33, 34, and 35 seasons. After the emergence of NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India, there really is not much of a place for Moustakas in the Reds infield anymore, and this is not a contract the Reds want to be tied to.
The Reds want to cut payroll without dealing any of their starting pitching, and the Nats have the payroll space to take on Moustakas’ contract. Like when the Nats acquired Josh Bell, Moustakas’ value has never been lower, and now would be the time to jump on it while giving up relatively little and having the hope that Moustakas can return close to 2019 form where he slugged 35 bombs. While the Nats do have a young infield, Moustakas could provide insurance for Carter Kieboom or Luis Garcia if they struggle at the big league level this year. However, Moustakas could also slot right into the likely DH spot that is coming to the National League in the new CBA. Not only would the Nats be acquiring a veteran presence to mentor the young guys, but he could be turned into a trade piece down the road should he return to form. The 33-year-old will surely not be a part of the Nats future plans, so it would make sense to deal him again for more prospects.
Now let’s talk about who the Nats would be parting with in this scenario. Yadiel Hernandez, a 34-year old OF, got his first cup of coffee in the majors in 2020 and then went on to play 112 games in 2021. He slashed .273/.329/.413 with a .742 OPS and a 98 wRC+. While Yadiel showed flashes of being a solid hitter at times, he was not very consistent. And with a crowded young OF, he does not really have a place in the Nats future plans at 34 years old. However, the Reds could use a guy like Yadiel. While again, he is old, he comes with 5 years of control at a cheap cost. The Reds could easily slot him in as their very cost-effective DH. As far as the other two names, catcher Drew Millas is the Nationals #20 prospect. With Keibert Ruiz already destined to be the Nationals catcher of the future and Riley Adams slated to be his backup, Millas does not really have a path to the majors in Washington. Right-hander Seth Shuman is the Nats #29 prospect. While Shuman has some upside, he is 24 years old and has not yet pitched above A ball. The Nats acquired him as a throw-in from Oakland in the Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes trade, and he could be flipped again without batting an eye in this scenario.
We know the Nats and Reds have dealt with each other before in the Tanner Roark/Tanner Rainey swap of the 2018/2019 offseason, and I think out of all scenarios I present, this is probably the likeliest.
2. Nats, Pads Swap First Basemen
Nationals Receive: 1B Eric Hosmer, SS Jackson Merrill, LHP Ethan Elliott
Padres Receive: 1B Josh Bell
The Nationals and Padres have had a history as trade partners, most notably the Trea Turner and Joe Ross blockbuster. Here, they would be coming together once again, this time in salary dump form. Eric Hosmer has been nothing short of a disaster for the Padres ever since he signed the 8-year, $144m contract with them. In 4 seasons with the Padres now, Hosmer has amassed a total of 1.4 WAR. Most recently in 2021, Hosmer slashed .269/.337/.395 with a .732 OPS and 102 wRC+ in 151 games. Just very underwhelming for someone making $20m a year. With the 32-year old having 4 years and $52m left on the deal, the Padres need to get this contract off their payroll to clear space for more competitive moves.
While I’ve said numerous times I would prefer the Nationals work out an extension with Josh Bell rather than trade him, this is one of the few instances I would be okay with dealing him. Bell has 1 year left on his contract and is projected to make $9m in 2022, his last year of arbitration. I’ve gassed up Bell’s 2021 season enough, but I’ll do it again. He slashed .261/.347/.476 with an .823 OPS and a 118 wRC+. He slugged 27 bombs, had 24 doubles and a triple, and was 1 of 3 players other than top 2 NL MVP finishers Bryce Harper and Juan Soto that walked more than striking out in the second half. The Padres would be getting an upgrade here: one that is younger, switch-hits, has a lot more power, and is overall just a better bat than Hosmer. Bell built his value back up, and this would be a scenario for the Nationals to maximize it.
With the Nationals acquiring another albatross contract, the Padres would have to pay up with prospects. 18-year-old SS Jackson Merrill, 2021 first round pick and the #7 prospect in the Padres’ system, could potentially be a player involved. While he is not currently an MLB top 100 prospect, he is projected to eventually move up into that category. His ETA to the majors is not til 2025, but this gives the Nats another super young guy to stash for the future. Since Fernando Tatis Jr. will be entrenched at SS for the next generation of Padres baseball, the Padres may feel comfortable parting with Merrill. As far as 24-year old left-hander Ethan Elliott, he is the #11 prospect in the Padres system and is projected to arrive in the majors in 2022. This would give the Nationals both an MLB-ready prospect as well as another prospect that will surely be top 5 in their system.
While you may be thinking the Padres are well overpaying here, AJ Preller is pretty easy to fool in a trade as we’ve seen in the past with numerous deals. And again, not only would the Padres be getting a good player in Josh Bell, they are also getting one of baseball’s worst contracts off their hands. This would be a fair trade for the two sides, all things considered. Again, I would rather Josh Bell be extended than traded because he could actually fit the Nats future window. However, if they decide to go the route of trading him, this would be one of the best ways to maximize his value in my opinion.
3. Nationals, White Sox Blockbuster Swap Again
Nationals Receive: RHP Craig Kimbrel, LHP Dallas Keuchel, OF Micker Adolfo
White Sox Receive: RHP Erick Fedde, RHP Austin Voth, SS Jackson Cluff, C Israel Pineda
I’m basically Billy Beaning in this last scenario, but we know Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn have a history of dealing with each other, the most notable as we know being the trade that brought Adam Eaton to D.C. and sent Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning to the South Side. Thankfully, the Nationals won a World Series or else this would have been one of the worst trades in recent history. Luckily, this trade would have a much lower failure rate than that one. It has been no secret that the White Sox have been actively shopping Kimbrel throughout the offseason. After being acquired from the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs during last year’s trade deadline, Kimbrel was awful for the White Sox. While he posted an absolutely ridiculous 0.49 ERA and 1.10 FIP with a 2.2 fWAR in 39 appearances for the Cubs, he completely fell off the rails upon changing teams. In 24 appearances for the White Sox, he posted a 5.09 ERA and 4.56 ERA. In other words, he came crashing back down to the mean from an absurd performance in the first half.
Kimbrel is making $16 million in 2022 and is set to be a free agent after the season. The thinking here for the Nationals is that if Kimbrel returns to form, he could then be flipped again at the 2022 trade deadline for a solid prospect. As far as Dallas Keuchel, this is the bad contract the Nats would be taking back in this case. He is set to make $18m in 2022 with a vesting option for $20m in 2023. Keuchel was quite bad in 2022, posting a 5.28 ERA and 5.23 FIP with a 0.6 fWAR in 162 IP. Like Kimbrel, Keuchel would maybe be a future trade candidate for the Nats if he somehow returned to form like he was in his Houston Astros days, but it is less likely and he still has a lot of money attached to his name.
25-year-old outfielder Micker Adolfo is a name the Nationals could receive back in the deal. Adolfo, the #11 prospect in the White Sox system, is on the older side but is MLB ready and is projected by MLB.com to make his debut in the Majors in 2022. In 2021, Adolfo slashed .249/.318/.525 with an .844 OPS and 128 wRC+ in 57 games in AA. He was promoted to AAA, where he slashed .240/.301/.513 with an .814 OPS and 112 wRC+ in 44 games. Adolfo is a prototypical power-hitting corner OF. While his OBP is on the lower side and he posts a high K rate well into the 30% range, the SLG is there and he has an above average wRC+. He hit 25 homers, 24 doubles, and 1 triple across 101 games in AA/AAA. The Nats system as a whole lacks power, and Adolfo would be a great get for them.
As far as what the Nationals are giving up, Erick Fedde is about to turn 29 next month and really shouldn’t have a place in the Nats future plans given his career in the majors thus far. He could eat some innings for the White Sox and could slot into the back of their rotation or possibly the bullpen. Keuchel and Fedde would essentially be swapping rotation spots on each team. Austin Voth is turning 30 years old in June and hasn’t exactly worked out in Washington, so he could be a potential project for the White Sox. Jackson Cluff is the Nationals #19 prospect, and while he was raking recently in the AFL, just came off a rough 2021 campaign in AA, where he slashed .190/.278/.278 with a .556 OPS and 55 wRC+. He was above average offensively in high and low A, but he is 25 years old and surely does not seem to really have any place in the Nationals future. While the Nats need as many prospects as they can get, they surely can afford to part with Cluff. As far as Israel Pineda, the Nats #28 prospect, he is essentially a throw-in. The Nats can also afford to part with Pineda after already acquiring 2 of their future backstops in Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams.
So there we have it. I definitely believe the Nationals should pursue a salary dump trade like this, as they are currently in the most ideal position to pursue one. Their payroll is lower than normal and their system is in desperate need of prospects. Here’s to hoping the team is busy whenever the agreement is decided upon to lift the lockout.