Mike Rizzo and the Nationals accomplished their main goal at this year’s trade deadline: trade anybody on an expiring contract. On Monday evening, they traded Jeimer Candelario to the Chicago Cubs in return for pitcher DJ Herz and shortstop Kevin Made. You can catch a quick refresher on that trade here if you need it. While their deadline haul could have included Carl Edwards Jr., it didn’t because he’s still rehabbing from shoulder discomfort. I have no real issue with that being that he wasn’t going to get you much more than a lower level prospect or maybe a small amount of international bonus pool money. But there are some remaining questions about how the Nationals handled this year’s deadline, specifically with regards to Lane Thomas and Kyle Finnegan.
Both Thomas and Finnegan are in the midst of career years and come with 2 additional years of team control past this season. Looking at where the team is in their rebuild, it looks likely that they won’t be ready to contend until 2025 at the earliest. That would be the final year that both Thomas and Finnegan are under team control. With that being the case, it looks like the team held onto two players whose value likely won’t ever be higher just so they can potentially contribute in 2025 when the team is entering their window to win.
While we don’t know what kind of offers the Nationals were getting on these two players, we do know that Rizzo and the front office viewed these two players a lot differently than other teams viewed them. Let’s take Lane Thomas for instance. Mike Rizzo was quoted as saying Lane Thomas is “an everyday, all-star caliber player”. Uh, Mike, I got some news for ya…while Lane Thomas put up an all-star caliber first half, he shouldn’t be viewed as an all-star caliber player. Here’s the bottom line on Thomas: his slash line is .197/.250/.324 so far in the second half (18 games). Now, he’s not that bad – not even close, actually. But he’s not as good as his first half slash line of .302/.347/.497 either.
In a sellers market where there were multiple teams looking for a bat, Thomas was likely in high demand. But there was a gap in negotiations. Teams that were calling Rizzo likely viewed Thomas as a platoon player, while Rizzo was viewing him as an everyday, all-star caliber player. His splits this year (.251/.298/.393 vs RHP and .362/.407/.639 vs LHP) and throughout his career (.227/.296/.382 vs RHP and .309/.369/.535 vs LHP) would say that he is a platoon player. Granted, he’s an ok outfielder who is in the 95th percentile in arm strength and 94th percentile in sprint speed. So could you use him a little more often than your typical platoon outfielder? Sure you could.
A team like the Twins, who are loaded with left-handed bats, really could’ve used Thomas. The Yankees are another team that would’ve been a good match for Thomas. The Twins have a team OPS that is 80 points lower against LHP than it is RHP. Enter Lane Thomas. The Twins and Yankees both have a middle of the road farm system, so with that in mind, I think a realistic trade could’ve netted the Nats a prospect in their top 3-8 plus another one in the mid-late teens. Grabbing a SP in that top 3-8 organizational prospect range from either of those systems would’ve been a great add at the deadline. I know some of you are saying “well that’s not enough”. But here’s the other piece to this puzzle: the Nats already have another Lane Thomas on the roster. His name is Stone Garrett.
Garrett mashes left handed pitching almost as well as Thomas with a .267/.339/.515 slash line against LHP this season and a .279/.331/.531 slash line against LHP over the course of his career. What good is it to have two outfielders on your roster who both hit LHP, but aren’t great against RHP? You don’t face that many LHP, so it’s pretty redundant. Meanwhile, the Nats have Blake Rutherford, a former first round pick of the Yankees, coming up to the Majors afte hitting .345/.395/.583 in AAA this season. And guess what – Rutherford hits left-handed and hits RHP better than he does LHP. I’m no expert, but it seems like you could probably form a nice platoon between Garrett and Rutherford and be quite alright without Thomas.
As for Finnegan, every contender is looking to add relievers at the deadline. It seems like the Nats missed a nice opportunity to cash in on that. The only thing I will say is that with Hunter Harvey out, the Nats have very limited options in the bullpen. Finnegan has really been the only reliable reliever the team has had since Harvey went out. I understand why Finnegan didn’t get dealt, but I still would’ve dealt him. Relievers are volatile and the Mariners ended up with a potential everyday bat (Dominic Canzone) along with two other prospects in exchange for Paul Sewald.
My last gripe is from a roster construction standpoint. When I initially wrote this, Corey Dickerson was still with the team. That was a problem that has since been resolved. Separate from Dickerson, we’re still handing most of our starts at first base to Dom Smith. It’s fine if you want to keep Dom on the roster, he’s a solid defensive first baseman, but he doesn’t need to be starting at first base everyday. Nobody wants a defense first first baseman who is slugging .347 on the season. His average exit velocity is in the bottom 2%, hard hit rate is in the bottom 6%, barrel rate in the bottom 18%…it’s just not pretty. The team began experimenting with Riley Adams at first base last year in Rochester, but that appears to have gone nowhere. That’s a shame because the team has Drew Millas in Rochester and he’s proven that he’s ready for a shot in the Majors. At this stage of the rebuild, the team should be prioritizing giving playing time to prospects who are ready for the Majors (Millas) and younger guys who they took minor league fliers on (Rutherford, Travis Blankenhorn).
Along with Dickerson’s DFA, the team optioned Luis García to AAA and called Jeter Downs up. García has been ice cold recently, but this is just another example of the team’s mishandling of its young prospects. Downs on the other hand has an impressive .175/.302/.333 slash line in AAA this year. Unless this is a “prove it” move where Downs either produces or gets DFA’d, this move makes very little sense. Especially considering the Nats have Darren Baker hitting .295/.366/.375 in 56 games in AAA. It was an all around bizarre move.
The Nationals walked away from the trade deadline with two more prospects than they had a week ago. That in itself is a win. But it could’ve been more. Now it’s time to see a couple of the younger guys come up and get some at bats. We know we’re going to see a lot of Jake Alu, but here’s to hoping we see some of Millas, Rutherford and Blakenhorn too over the next two months.