The 2022 Nationals, as you may know, are extremely bad at baseball. They are a virtual lock to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline, and rightfully so. During last year’s trade deadline, the Nationals were among the most active teams and sold off a ton of expiring contracts as well as Trea Turner to bring back a multitude of young pieces to add to their dead-last ranked farm.
This upcoming deadline will be no different, and most of the buzz about this year’s is revolving around Josh Bell. While it was anticipated that Bell would be traded at last year’s deadline, the Nationals ultimately held onto him in hopes that he would be exactly what he is right now: one of the best rental bats the trade deadline has seen in a few years. While Bell had a good season last year and turned his season numbers around with an excellent second half, he’s straight up been one of the best hitting first baseman and one of the best hitters in baseball period, slashing a torrid .315/.398/.508 slash line with a .906 OPS, 150 wRC+, 161 OPS+, and a 3.5 bWAR. Even though he slugged more bombs in his breakout 2019 campaign, thus far in 2022 has been the best season of Bell’s career, and it appears to be paying off for the Nats that they held onto him.
While I have always said I wanted to see Bell extended because I knew deep down that he had the potential to be one of the best hitting 1B in baseball at a reasonable price, it’s just not happening at this point. Plus, you honestly have to feel bad for the guy at this point; he’s been on crap, non-contending teams essentially his entire career. He absolutely deserves to be sent somewhere where he can help his new team make a deep playoff run and possibly win a World Series.
While Bell is a huge trade chip for the Nats at this year’s deadline, the other trade options quickly thin out compared to the 2021 deadline where the Nationals traded Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Daniel Hudson, Brad Hand, Josh Harrison, and Yan Gomes. The Nats are surely going to trade more than Bell, but not for very inspiring returns. And due to that higher degree of uncertainty who stays and who goes, let’s break down the Nationals active roster and who we could see the Nats definitely not deal, almost certainly deal, possibly deal, and probably not deal:
WILL DEFINITELY NOT BE TRADED: Juan Soto, Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, Luis Garcia, Patrick Corbin, Mason Thompson, Tres Barrera, Reed Garrett, Jordan Weems
Let’s just go ahead and get these guys out of the way. Despite trade rumors a few weeks ago, the Nationals are in active extension discussions with Soto, and Mike Rizzo came out and specifically stated they are not trading him. He’s staying, at least through this year. Gray, Ruiz, and Garcia are crucial pieces to the Nationals future, so they aren’t going anywhere. Corbin’s contract is untradeable. Lane Thomas, while he looks more and more like a 4th outfielder every day, is too young and has too much team control to be dealt. Thompson is a young reliever with electric stuff that the Nats acquired for Daniel Hudson last year, so he’s here to stay and hopefully become a rock in the Nats bullpen down the line. Barrera is a reliable fairly young backup catcher and will be here to stay as well with Riley Adams, playing the game “how many at bats can we take in place of future best catcher in baseball Keibert Ruiz.”
As far as Garrett and Weems, I just found out these guys existed a couple weeks ago, and both are just abysmal and not MLB-caliber pitchers, no one wants them. I expect them to fill in for innings after the trade deadline when a chunk of the bullpen is gone.
WILL ALMOST DEFINITELY BE TRADED: Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Cesar Hernandez, Ehire Adrianza, Steve Cishek, Erasmo Ramirez, Carl Edwards Jr.
I already mentioned the case for Bell, but Nelson Cruz at 42 years old and on an expiring contract is basically a certainty to not be sticking around into August. And Father Time looks like it’s finally starting to get the best of Nellie Cruz, slashing .241/.322/.369 with a .691 OPS, 94 wRC+. 100 OPS+, and only 8 homers. Cruz started showing the signs of decline when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for starting pitcher Joe Ryan, who today is a contributing part of the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins rotation. While Cruz obviously won’t be yielding that kind of return this season since he was raking in Minnesota when traded to Tampa last year, he’s still had some hot stretches this season and there will definitely be a few teams that will be interested in acquiring him due to his long track record in hopes they can still squeeze some production out of him. It also shows what kind of return a rental bat that’s raking can bring you with Cruz getting the Twins Ryan last year, and Josh Bell could be that trade chip this year.
Cesar Hernandez, however, has been even worse. Slashing .252/.311/.315 with a .626 OPS, 77 wRC+, and an 83 OPS+. For a guy that hit 21 bombs last year, a .315 SLG and still 0 homers on July 6th is BRUTAL. That being said, he’s 32 years old on an expiring contract, so the Nationals have essentially no reason to keep him. A contender will probably look to add him as a bench bat and/or add some veteran presence in exchange for probably the baseball player equivalent of a piece of gum. This will finally allow Luis Garcia to slide over to 2B, where he should’ve been playing this entire season.
Adrianza has been bad at the plate in limited action with the Nats, but he can play nearly every position on the diamond and contenders will always find UTL players useful. I expect him to go as well.
Cishek, a 36-year-old reliever on an expiring contract, will almost surely be traded as well despite a pretty meh season with a 4.50 ERA and 4.32 FIP. Contenders are always looking for pen help, so one will be interested in Cishek for a bag of balls. Ramirez is similar, but he is a bit younger at 32 and is only making 700K this year, a very easy add. I would expect someone to call about him as well. This is the same case for Carl Edwards Jr. as well, but he’s even younger at 30 and has been the most solid of this bunch with a 3.72 ERA and 4.12 FIP, and those numbers were better prior to his recent struggles.
WILL POSSIBLY BE TRADED: Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Maikel Franco
Despite their recent struggles, Rainey and Finnegan have been the two best arms in the Nats bullpen this year (not really saying much) and I think are pretty likely to be traded. The only thing I believe holding them back from being in the “Will Definitely Be Traded” category is the amount of team control both relievers have. Both Finnegan and Rainey still have 3 more years of arbitration after this season and are not free agents until 2026. However, that makes them even more valuable assets since they come with team control at a very cheap price. The question is whether the Nationals feel they should hold onto them to be dealt in following years with better seasons or if they want to move them now. This could help by packaging one or both of them with Bell or Cruz to get a better return.
As far as Maikel Franco, the guy just stinks on both sides of the ball and I’m not sure anyone really wants him. He’s on an expiring deal as well so there’s no reason to keep him other than the fact that he’s not good. If anything, a contender might stash him for depth in AAA, but nothing really seems certain. With Carter Kieboom done for 2022 and no one else really to fill in at 3B, it wouldn’t shock me either way to see Franco dealt or if the Nats just hang onto him to finish out this abysmal season.
POSSIBILITY EXISTS, BUT NOT LIKELY TO BE TRADED: Erick Fedde, Paolo Espino, Andres Machado, Victor Robles, Yadiel Hernandez, Alcides Escobar
While not great, Fedde has been a serviceable rotation arm this year with a 4.29 ERA and 4.35 FIP. He has 2 more years of team control following this year. I feel like teams will call about him, but the Nationals will continue the love fest with him and keep him around as a part of the rotation going into next year. They need as many arms as possible and they likely view Fedde as one of those arms going forward. Same with Espino. Teams might be interested, but ultimately the Nats are still gonna need guys to slot into the rotation for the remainder of the season, and I believe they’ll hang onto Espino.
Andres Machado has essentially been a career minor league reliever, but he has control until 2028. Someone might take a flier on him, but more likely he’ll probably just eat innings in the bullpen after the deadline.
Victor Robles is interesting. I ultimately think he stays, but contenders might be interested in him as a defensive replacement and/or pinch runner. However, with 2 more cheap years of control after this year, and the Nationals probably thinking they can still save him since he’s only 25 years old, I expect Robles to stay as well.
Yadiel Hernandez is interesting as well. 34 years old but has 4 more years of team control remaining after this year. While his overall numbers are pretty modest with a .267/.311/.403 slash and a 97 wRC+, Yadiel has shown some pretty solid stretches of hitting this year, including his scorching hot start to the season. I feel like contenders will be interested in him as a bench bat, but again the Nats will likely hold onto him as their LF for the remainder of the season due to his cheap team control.
I’d rather spend as little time talking about the last guy as possible. The Nats probably hold onto him to be their shortstop after Garcia moves over to 2B following the trade of Cesar Hernandez for the simple fact of who the hell else is going to play there, plus the dude shouldn’t even be on a Major League roster let alone a contender’s. Not going anywhere, unfortunately.
So there we have it. Will be super interesting to see who stays and who goes when the trade deadline ultimately rolls around and what kind of prospects the Nationals are able to bring back. It’s very hard to believe this team will somehow get even worse.