The Big Picture
At the All Star Break last year, the Washington Nationals were playing .500 baseball (46-46) but were already 11.5 games back behind the National League East leading Phillies.
To be sure, it was just their second non-losing first half of the season since they emigrated from Montreal. Prior to last season, DC had entered just one midseason classic with a winning record. When MLB moved the Expos to the nation’s capital, the newly christen Nationals posted a 52-36 record heading into the All Star Break, leading the division by two-and-a-half games. Of course, Washington would go 29-45 in the season’s back half and wind up in last place.
This season, the Nationals, fueled by some incredible young talent (Bryce Harper) and outstanding pitching (3.21 ERA, best in MLB), have produced their second winning first-half – going 49-34 with a four game lead over the Atlanta Braves.
Why They Will Trade With The Twins
Selling “Hope” has played well in Washington in the political world. Now the Nationals are attempting to convince their fans that it exists for them in the NL East too. It won’t be easy with the big spending teams like the Braves, Mets and Marlins breathing down their necks so the Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo will be making calls in July to see what is available to help push his team over that hump.
And, let’s face it: the Twins have made for very good trade partners in the past as well.
Rizzo did a job picking Wilson Ramos (season-ending knee surgery notwithstanding) and, if you believed last trade deadline’s reports, he nearly got the Twins to hand over Denard Span for…ROGER BERNADINA
. (Yes, Span was still struggling through concussion symptoms but good god, ROGER BERNADINA?) Based on those two instances, I’d say Rizzo has found himself an organization in which he can sell oceanfront property in Arizona.
Given their need to appease the fan base in a heavily competitive DC/Baltimore market combined with the complete lack of a legitimate lead-off hitter (as a group they are posting a .306 on-base percentage), there is probably a strong chance that Rizzo would pick up the phone and see if the Twins are still interested in Span-for-Bernadina.
Why They Won’t Trade With the Twins
Aside from Span, there is not much on the menu that would appeal to this team.
Their pitching staff is Jim Morrison poetry deep and even their need for a center fielder has quelled since moving uber-stud Harper to the middle of the outfield. While Span’s +21 Plus/Minus in center field is the best in baseball, Harper’s +12 is not far behind (fifth among center fielders). What’s more is the Nationals’ mix of Mike Morse in left, Andy LaRoche at first and Jayson Werth impending return from the DL to return to right field means Harper might need to stay in center.
Also, it’s worth noting that Washington’s minor league pitching depth is fairly thin after the Nationals unloaded three of their top arms to Oakland in exchange for Gio Gonzalez. What is left might not be appealing to the Twins either.
The Nationals will be buyers but it would appear that if they are not interested in Span - or maybe a reunion with Jamey Carroll as a back-up infielder - there may not be a match with the Twins.
Possible Trade Targets
Steve Lombardozzi Jr – INF/OF
The Son of Lombo in the same lineup with the Son of Sal (Butera)? Whoa.
The 23-year-old Lombardozzi has been ousted from his second base position by Danny Espinosa and has been shifted to left field where his bat is a complete miscast. He’s shown good on-base acumen in the minors (career .369 OBP) but has not had that manifest in his 238 plate appearances at the major league level (career .313 OBP). He intrigued the Twins last year when they were discussing a Span trade.
Drew Storen – Closer
Gosh, you’d hate to think that the Twins would target recently damaged goods like Storen but damn do they love them some Proven Closer. With Storen rehabbing his way back to the Nationals as we speak, the Twins have no clear cut plans for the backend of the bullpen in the coming years. The 24-year-old Storen would in theory give them stability at a cheap price in 2013 but comes with risks
Matthew Skole – Third Base
At six-foot-four and 230 pounds, Skole is a monster at third base. His left-handed power has certainly manifested in his second professional season. In 319 plate appearances in 2011, he hit five home runs in low-A. This year, in 370 plate appearances, he’s hit 21 home runs and is leading the Sally League. His glove is questionable so he might be destined for another position than his current one.
Rob Wort – RHRP
If the team is in need of some bullpen depth, the 23-year-old Rob Wort might be an interesting plus-one in any potential trade. Repeating High-A ball for the second consecutive year, he’s struck out 63 in 38.1 innings while walking just 13. It is the latter that is important as Wort’s control had been terrible in 2011 (he walked 27 in 36.2 innings). He throws a low-90s fastball but can clearly miss bats.
Roger Bernadina - OF