Here’s the conundrum for the Nationals on the trade front: they are not going to trade any of their young, top-tier pitching prospects. Other teams will want these prospects. Hence, a stalemate follows.
The Nationals will not be distributing Jackson Rutledge or Cade Cavalli for one year of another player. To see those names attached to any discussion around Kris Bryant is borderline silly. Should the Cubs ask for one of those pitchers in the opening of discussions? Of course. Why not? The Marlins once asked for Victor Robles and Juan Soto for J.T. Realmuto. It’s the shoot-your-shot aspect of negotiations. Then reality begins to join the discourse.
After a 2020 flop, the Nationals are simultaneously in win-now and rebuild-now mode. Their 40-man roster remains at just 34. They will be busy signing players -- should the league ever shift into that mode -- this winter. At the same time, they need their farm system to hold in order to increase its depth.
Which means, at the least, Cavalli and Rutledge are going nowhere. Other young, intriguing members of the 40-man roster -- like Luis García and Yasel Antuna -- are in a highly unlikely position to be moved. This is not a climate where the Nationals are seeking to fill a single void. Instead, they have a bevy of issues to address and little in-house capital at their disposal.
The so-called “untouchables” of the past included more prominent players. Soto, Robles and Trea Turner last season and prior. However, it’s not just the prominent names to be wary of when pulling trade.
Jesús Luzardo was the 15th-ranked prospect in the Nationals system, according to Baseball America, when he was part of a 2017 trade with Oakland. The Nationals sent Blake Treinen, Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse to the A’s for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Luzardo was 19 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery, which caused his fall to the third round of the 2016 draft. He finished eighth in American League Rookie of the Year voting this year after entering the A’s rotation. He’s one of the league’s tantalizing young talents.
Neuse was ranked 17th at the time. He put together a .939 OPS for Triple-A Las Vegas in 2019 and made his major-league debut the same year because of it. He could have a shot at a starting infield position next season.
So, those two were lower-level players which both have turned into major leaguers.
For the Nationals, this winter is about wriggling out of the box they are in. Several quality free agent options exist to fix their roster. They have a nice slice of cash to spend -- should they choose to. They also have a not-so-short list of “untouchable” prospects despite their farm system being labeled among the worst in the league.