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Nationals Should Look to Capitalize on Tight NL West Race

The Washington Nationals were able to, briefly, recover from a tough start to the season, riding Kyle Schwarber’s monstrous month of June back into the playoff race. Then, the injuries piled up, notably to Schwarber and Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals have lost 16 of their last 22 games and have turned into clear sellers ahead of Friday’s trade deadline.

With the direction of the team decided, ace Max Scherzer quickly became the most significant player available on the trade market. A future hall of famer, having one of his best seasons in his career will, barring any unforeseen issues, be joining a contender by the end of the week. It isn’t every year that someone of Scherzer’s caliber hits the market at the deadline; he could start a Game 1 or a Game 7 for any team in the playoff hunt. Teams should be, and reportedly are, lining up with offers for the Nationals right-hander. That alone sets Washington up to receive a sizeable return, as a bidding war will likely ensue.

It just so happens that 3 of the best teams in baseball this year, the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, are all interested in adding to their rotations. Three teams in one division will be battling it out to see who will be the top seed in the National League playoffs and which two will be fighting for their playoff lives in the Wild Card Game. Not only would adding a player like Scherzer significantly benefit each of these teams, but whoever acquires him will also prevent their rivals from doing so.

This is almost the perfect storm for the Nationals, and they should be aggressively looking to capitalize. Washington has one of the worst farm systems in baseball and desperately needs to restock their prospect pool with talent. Lucky for them, the Dodgers, Giants and Padres all have top 10 systems with blue-chip prospects for the taking.

San Francisco seems unlikely to part with shortstop Marco Luciano (MLB Pipeline’s #12 overall prospect) and San Diego has seemed unwilling to move pitcher MacKenzie Gore and shortstop CJ Abrams (MLB Pipeline #7 and #9). Even without those elite talents on the table, all 3 teams have players that could become immediate contributors for the Nationals with years of team control. Any deal for Scherzer would likely net a top 2-3 prospect from a given team’s system, along with another top 10 and potentially a third piece, and that could increase if the 3 California contenders have to bid against one another.

San Francisco would likely need to include a player like catcher Joey Bart (MLB Pipeline #17 overall, SF #2), who would fill the Nationals long-time need for stability behind the plate. Along with him, Washington could net a pitcher like Kyle Harrison (SF #8 prospect) or, if the bidding war works in their favor, Seth Corry (SF #5). The Dodgers would likely be sending one of their top 2 prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz (MLB Pipeline #41 overall) or pitcher Josiah Gray (MLB Pipeline #42) and likely a second player from their top 5, as their farm is deeper than it is filled with top-end talent. San Diego, reluctant to deal their top prospects, would likely have to consider catcher Luis Campusano (MLB Pipeline #31 overall, SD #3). Pitchers Reggie Lawson (SD #6) and/or Mason Thompson (SD #9) would also make sense for the Nationals.

There is plenty of talent at the minor league levels for all 3 of these possible landing spots for Scherzer, making this a great opportunity for the Nationals to retool and look to contend in 2022. If they play their cards right, the NL West race could help the Nationals set themselves up for some long-term success via a single trade of a player on an expiring contract.

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