Jun 15

Let’s make a deal. Trading Desmond, prospects might put Nats over the top

A banged-up, scuffling Nationals team has gotten up off the mat to win back-to-back games for the first time in almost three weeks and stay within spitting distance of the equally banged-up and scuffling New York Mets in the National League East. Now it’s time for general manager Mike Rizzo to show us what he has and give his team the tools to put the division away.

It’s fair to say that the Nats have medium- to long-term needs that can only be filled through a trade, as do their main division rivals. The team that makes the best deal may well emerge at the top of what has turned out to be a weak division.

So it’s time to part with underperforming shortstop Ian Desmond, who’s hitting .226/.270/.355 with 5 homers and 17 RBIs on the season. He has also committed 14 errors. Desmond has been especially horrible in the past week, going 1-for-21, with 13 strikeouts. His only hit was a garbage-time pinch-hit single after Thursday’s loss to Milwaukee had gotten out of hand.

With almost no possibility of returning to the Nats next season, he needs a change of scenery, and the team needs some return on the longest-tenured member of the organization, drafted when it played in Montreal in 2004.

Now that the Nats have finally completed last winter’s blockbuster three-team deal with Tampa Bay and San Diego by acquiring infield prospect Trea Turner from the Padres, they are loaded for bear. In fact, the Nats have never been in a better position to deal Desmond and some prospects for a player or two who can put this team over the top.

Turner is the shortstop and leadoff man of the future. The Nats can envision a middle infield consisting of him and Wimer Difo, who has already had his big league cup of coffee.

Danny Espinosa, a natural shortstop, has shown a resurgence at the plate this year (.251/.344./.456, 8 HR, 18 RBI) and can step right in and play the kind of defense the Nats need at short. His bat will likely never be worse than Desmond’s is right now.

The Nats need a strong arm in the bullpen. Without long relief man Craig Stammen, and with Tanner Roark in the starting rotation until Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister get healthy, the Nats have no reliable bridge between the starters and setup men Matt Thornton and Casey Janssen. Even when Roark returns to the pen for long relief duty, the Nats will need another consistent, veteran arm.

The team could package Desmond with any of the hard-throwing pitching prospects in its own top 20 rankings, including Nick Pivetta, Jake Johanssen and Jefry Rodriguez. The Nats also have several catchers, always in demand, like Jackson Reetz, Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom.

What might such a deal net them?

The Oakland Athletics are possibly the biggest disappointment in the American League at 26-39 and have worn themselves thin in the middle infield with trades. Would they be willing to deal beloved former Nat Tyler Clippard and versatile Ben Zobrist?

The Seattle Mariners aren’t doing much better at 28-35 and have been lacking consistency at short. What if they would give deposed closer Fernando Rodney a change of scenery as well?

The Cincinnati Reds, 28-33 and seemingly going nowhere, have lost shortstop Zack Cozart for the season. Might they be willing to part with closer Aroldis Chapman?

Rizzo has made key trades in the past that have helped the Nats win division championships. In 2012 he brought catcher Kurt Suzuki from Oakland, and last season, he obtained second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera from Cleveland. It’s time for him to work his magic again, this time for the missing link in the Nats’ bullpen, and possibly the key to the NL East title.