It’s really amazing to think about how far the Nationals’ franchise has come.
Since first moving to D.C. in 2005, the team has been on a cheap roller-coaster ride of sorts- down seasons, decent seasons, and great seasons that ended with a sad descent in the playoffs.
The city hit rock bottom in 2008 and 2009. Willie Harris (who hit .251 in ‘08) and Austin Kearns (.217) were regular starters in the outfield during a 59 win campaign. In 2009, the team’s best starting pitcher was John Lannan, who went 9-13 in 33 starts with a 3.88 ERA in another 59 win season.
But the player that kept hope alive was Ryan Zimmerman. He was drafted with the fourth pick in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft, and immediately made an impact. A .287 BA in his first full year in 06’ cemented his role as the future franchise player. He was the best offensive starter (.292, 33 HRs, 106 RBI) on the bad ‘09 team.
But as Washington improved, winning 69 games in 2010 and then 80 in 2011, he regressed. A fantastic 7.3 WAR in ‘09 became 6.2 in ‘10, 1.9 in ‘11, 3.9 in ‘12, 3.7 in ‘13.
And in 2015, the trend continued. Zimmerman was batting .209 with a .265 OBP before plantar faciitis set him to the DL on June 10. He hasn’t played since.
It’s rare that a player once dubbed as the “face of the franchise” has their worst statistical seasons when the team is winning games. Its working this year- since Zimmerman has been on the DL, the Nationals have gone on a 14-9 stretch that included an eight game win streak.
He’ll never be traded, though. The Nats have him locked up thru 2019 (and a team option for ‘20) with an 11 year, $135 million contract signed in 2009. Based on recent history, it’s a good thing when he isn’t playing.
So what can the Nationals do to make sure they keep a good distance from the 2nd place New York Mets when he inevitably returns to the field?
1. Trade Ian Desmond
Opening Day 2015 is the best example of why Desmond should be traded. David Wright popped up a Max Scherzer pitch behind second base. Second baseman Dan Uggla was settled underneath the popup and called for it.
Desmond did not hear Uggla and at the last minute, called for the catch as he was sprinting across the diamond. Uggla backed away, Desmond reached and lunged, and the ball tipped off fell to the ground. Then Lucas Duda doubled to right field to score two unearned runs.
Desmond went on to commit at least one error in almost every game that first week. Fans chalked it up to the fact that he always has bad starts to seasons- It makes it seem like the team could take the bad defense (18 errors through July 4) in favor of good offense.
But Desmond is everything but a reliable hitter. A -0.3 WAR in 2015 is accompanied by a .217 BA and .260 OBP (you can see more of his stats here.)
The 29 year old’s contract (2 yrs, 17.5 mil) ends after this year, and the team would be foolish to let him go in free agency and get nothing in return. Especially when prospect Trea Turner is getting close to a call-up and veteran Yunel Escobar is capable of taking over shortstop in the meantime.
Here are two trade possibilities:
To the Mets for prospects Gabriel Ynoa (RP) and Dominic Smith (1B)
The Nats have a weak bullpen at the major and minor league levels, so a top ten relief prospect would make sense. New York has had its share of trouble finding its shortstop, with neither Wilmer Flores nor Ruben Tejada working out.
Desmond is a right-hander that can hit for power, and Citi Field would be a good stadium for that with the short wall in left. As for Smith, the Nats are short on first base prospects as well, and if Zimmerman’s injury woes continue over the next few years, it would be nice to have a good group of prospects at that position.
To the Brewers for prospects Devin Williams (P) and Jason Rodgers (3B/OF)
The Brew Crew thought their franchise shortstop was Jean Segura in 2014, but a .249 BA with just 10 stolen bases this season has tempered their expectations. Desmond coming over would allow Segura to platoon, or even get some time to regroup at Triple-A.
The Nats would receive pitching prospect Williams and utility guy Jason Rodgers. Washington is on the heavy side of pitching prospects, so Williams would likely project to be a long reliever or middle relief.
Rodgers is an exciting piece that can play lots of infield positions, something any teams can’t have enough of. He hit 296/.365/.489 with 18 homers, 53 walks, 94 strikeouts in Double-A/Triple-A over the past two years.
2. Trade/Tease Stephen Strasburg
Stras gets vividly rattled on the mound whenever something goes wrong. He gives up a blooper single? The man looks uncomfortable pitching out of the stretch. A home run? He loses his control. And, god forbid, an error behind him? Oh boy, are fans in for a show when that happens.
His 3.14 ERA in 2014 looks good at first blush, but it wasn’t consistent. He was either on or way off. He loses control of his blazing fastball, and that can spread to his off-speed, meaning that hits are flying across the diamond. He is too inconsistent in the regular season (5.49 ERA in 2015), and just a liability in the playoffs.
However, he is a young pitcher that can fill a 2 or even 1 role for many rotations. The Nats don’t need him to win a World Series in 2015- in fact, they would have a better chance without him. Tanner Roark is able to back up the end of the rotation, and their are four or five capable minor league starters that will be in the majors within two years.
I won’t provide any trade possibilities this time, because it’s too foggy of an area. Based on how the Nats have handled their struggling young players in the past, it is unlikely that a trade happens here.
But Strasburg has to significantly improve, or be traded, before a World Series trophy is in D.C.
18 year old Washington sports fan and Penn State freshman. I'll cover the MLB, NFL, and NBA.