July 2, 2022

All Quiet Along the Potomac??

January 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Potomac River is laced with ice near Nationals Park, but it is likely that life abounds beneath the serene white exterior that catches the afternoon sun from the south.  Yes, the water is moving despite the ice and things are heating up hot stove wise. There was the brief flurry of rumors that had the Nationals showing interest not only in J.T. Realmuto, but also Christian Yelich of the Marlins. And today, Chelsea Janes took a look at the recent tendency of the Nationals ownership to add Boras clients late in the off-season.

But one week after the ball dropped in Times Square, there is no underlying change in what the Nationals need to have a better chance in the post-season. Their starting pitching has been among the best in the majors since the addition of Max Scherzer. But it is almost impossible for the top threesome of Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez to match or exceed their numbers from the 2017 season. Scherzer and Gonzalez are 33 and 32 years old respectively. Gio has lost much more off the fastball than Mad Max, and Scherzer keeps refining his arsenal of pitches, so it is easy to see him repeating something close to his Cy Young excellence for a few more years. Maybe Gio can keep his Jaime Moyer groove–the big lolly pop curve–going as well, but counting on the top three Washington pitchers to post 46 wins again in 2018 seems a stretch.

And there is even less certainty about the fourth and fifth starters. Tanner Roark slipped badly in 2017 and there was no consistent pitcher to step into the the number five slot. Adding a pitcher would give the Nationals the luxury of allowing Roark to compete with Eric Fedde and A.J. Cole for the fifth spot. Given the overall age and injury history of their starters, the failure to add something of value is likely to haunt the team come summer, 2018.

Catcher Matt Wieters is on the downhill slope of his career and the numbers show an even more precipitous drop off from his glory days with Baltimore.

The question is whether the Nationals have the resources to solve both problems. Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto should be at the top target for Washington, He is the third best catcher in the majors; is only 26 and has three more years of team control.  All of the rumor boards have the Marlins asking top dollar for him, and rightly so.  Besides, do the Washington Nationals have the prospects to trade for him? In what world is it at all realistic to think they have the prospects to land both Realmuto AND Yelich?

My guess is that the Marlins would want more for Realmuto because he is so young and such a rare commodity–a good all around catching talent. Yelich could add a piece to the Nationals outfield picture post-Harper, but there are too many questions to answer about 2018, why bother with 2019 now? So I say go for Realmuto and let the Braves trade pitching to Miami for Yelich. If the Marlins have any strategic sense, they have to know that Atlanta has the pitching talent to trade and the Nationals have position players.  Neither team has both. Washington should concentrate its efforts on one of the best catchers in the game and let others worry about Yelich.

What might a trade look like? One possible scenario–just thinking out loud–is the Nationals trading Raudy Read, Daniel Johnson and Yasel Antuna for Realmuto. All three prospects are rated among the Nationals top ten by John Sickels and Baseball America. Read could conceivably step in for Realmuto in 2018 and finish his training in the majors rather than in Triple-A. Antuna could be a very good infielder and Johnson is a five tool player with tremendous upside.  The trade does not include any of Washington’s top prospects however and Miami would be irresponsible not to ask for at least one. So, the real question is whether the Nationals are willing to trade Juan Soto for Realmuto instead of Daniel Johnson. For me Realmuto is worth it. Maybe it makes more sense to settle for an upgrade like Alex Avila who could platoon capably with Wieters and then have Raudy Read step in for 2019. But I don’t think so.

On the pitching front, Chelsea Janes has it nailed as usual. The Nationals are likely laying in the weeds hoping that a capable starter falls through through the cracks. It seems like wishful thinking, but with what some are calling a “soft” salary cap in effect these days under the most recent CBA, crazy things might happen. There is no denying that teams and the free agents are playing a game of chicken waiting for someone to blink.  As we move closer to the end of January the stakes will increase daily.

If Chelsea Janes is right about the Lerner’s preference for Boras clients, then Washington could be looking at adding Jake Arrieta. But Arrieta is asking for more money than the Nationals SHOULD be willing to pay. But some believe the only way for the Nationals to go deep into the playoffs is behind players who have been there; who have won at the highest level and are not intimidated by it as some believe Washington is. If that is the case, then there is no one else out there like Arrieta. And the element of surprise has always fascinated Ted Lerner. This could be as big a surprise as landing Scherzer, so it is not out of the question. Just unlikely.

Yes, the water is flowing under the ice on the Potomac, and yes, Mike Rizzo is working on putting together a better lineup for 2018. But there is only so much he can accomplish and patching all of the holes before pitchers and catchers report will require not only skill, but a fair amount of luck, sort of like shooting the rapids at Great Falls on a hot summer day… in a bathing suit. Let’s leave on that note.

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