As we get deeper into July, the Nationals’ inevitable firesale will continue to get closer and closer. We’ve talked about some of the guys who could be on the move, but the one who will definitely be moved and who will likely bring back the biggest return is Josh Bell. Bell figures to be one of the best bats on the market at the deadline and there won’t be a shortage of contenders who will be looking for an upgrade at either 1B or DH. Using MLBTradeValues.com, we’ll take a look at three contenders who could really use Bell’s bat in the middle of their lineup and what a potential return could look like.
The Brewers rank 18th in bWAR at 1B so far this season. As far as contenders go, the Brewers probably need to add Bell’s bat (or Nelson Cruz’s bat) to their lineup more than anyone else. The Brewers have been dependent on Rowdy Tellez at 1B so far this season, but Tellez would be much more useful at DH for the club. Nabbing Bell and moving Tellez to DH could be a big boost. So here’s what it might take to get a deal done:
Brewers receive: 1B Josh Bell (3.70 value)
Nationals receive: IF Felix Valerio (3.90 value)
It seems odd on paper that this would be a one for one swap, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, rental players aren’t netting returns like they were 3-4 years ago. Bell has a very good bat, but we’re not talking about a game-changing addition here. Second, the Nats should be focusing on getting the best player that they can in return, not a collection of lower-level minor leaguers that most likely won’t pan out anyways.
So that brings us to Valerio, who is currently the Brewers 11th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Valerio is currently in AA and has played 2B, SS and 3B, although he’s likely to settle in at 2B. Defense isn’t his calling card, however. His bat and grade 60 hit tool is what will carry him to the Majors eventually. After posting an .869 OPS in single A last season, the 21 year old has posted a .774 OPS with 10 HR and 21 SB in AA so far this season. Getting a player that’s potentially a year or so away from the Majors would be a huge coup for the Nats in any Bell deal.
The Red Sox rank 29th in bWAR so far this season at production from 1B. Bobby Dalbac and Franchy Cordero have handled most of the opportunities there and neither have been very good. Bell would be a nice addition to an already solid lineup that features Rafael Devers, Xander Boegarts and JD Martinez. Triston Casas is waiting in the wings, but if the Red Sox don’t want to push him, Bell would be a great alternative.
Red Sox receive: 1B Josh Bell (3.70 value)
Nationals receive: SP Chris Murphy (2.20 value)
Looking at the value alone, this one might not make a ton of sense to some. But Murphy, who is Boston’s 10th ranked prospect (and likely to climb), would be a nice get for the Nationals for a month and a half of Bell. Murphy projects as a back end of the rotation starter. The 24 year old was recently moved up to AAA after dominating AA hitting this season. So far, he’s posted a 2.72 ERA in 16 games (14 starts) with a 1.02 WHIP. His fastball tops out in the upper 90s and after having some issues with walks throughout college, he’s really toned that down. Scouts believe that if he can maintain or even continue to improve his command, he could develop into a #2 or #3 starter.
The Twins also rank in the bottom third as far as fWAR at 1B, checking in at #22 in the league. They also might be the most willing team to make a move for Bell. The Twins have a solid farm system that they can deal from and also might be the most desperate, with Carlos Correa likely hitting free agency again after this season. If you want your chance to win with Correa, this year might be it. Unlike the approach we took above where the Nats took the most MLB ready prospects that matchup value-wise, they could take a different approach here. The top end of the Twins farm system would be off-limits, and the further down you get in their top 30, the further the guys are from the Majors. There are a couple of mid-tier pitching prospects who could pique the Nats interest, though.
Twins receive: 1B Josh Bell (3.70 value)
Nationals receive: SP Ronny Henriquez and SP Louie Varland (4.00 total value)
Oddly enough, this is probably the worst of the three packages even though it gives off the highest total value according to MLBTradeValues.com. Henriquez and Varland are the Twins 10th and 11th rated prospects, respectively. Henriquez has struggled so far in AAA this season, but he has a fastball that runs into the upper 90s and a solid slider and changeup. He’s likely going to end up being a reliever but has back-end of the rotation potential due to the four pitch mix that he throws. Varland probably has the higher floor of the two. Varland has pitched to a 3.42 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) so far in AA this season. His fastball sits in the low-mid 90s and he throws a nice changeup, which is easily his best secondary pitch. He also throws a solid slider and a below-average curveball that he’ll throw to catch hitters off guard. With that 4-pitch mix, and solid command over each of them gives Varland a floor as a solid reliever. I would guess Varland and Henriquez will both eventually it to the Majors, the question is whether it’s in the rotation or in the bullpen.
I personally think that the Brewers trade would make the most sense for the Nats. The Nats would potentially get an everyday infielder with a plus bat in exchange for Bell. Getting a pitcher or two would be nice, but pitchers come with some more risk than position players and the Nats player development department hasn’t been great at developing pitching over the past 5-7 years. If Valerio were on the table, I’d take that deal and run.