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Would a team comprised of former Nationals players make the playoffs?

Would a team comprised of former Nationals players make the playoffs?

One measure of a successful pro sports organization is how many players leave them and then catch on with other teams. The way it works is simple. The best teams dispatch a group of players every offseason that either aren't in their financial plans or simply aren't good enough to make their roster. The players that aren't good enough move on to the next-best clubs until they are cycled out of the league.

The worst teams are usually home to the worst players. They are the final stops for guys on their way out either due to lack of production or age.

The Nats used to be one of those final stops. Back in their losing days, they were the last exit on the highway to retirement. Many longtime veterans came through Washington for brief stints before exiting the league; guys like Ivan Rodriguez, Matt Stairs and Alex Cora.

Nowadays, the Nats are making tough decisions on good players. That has led to a good deal of talent leaving the organization for one reason or another.

Look around the league and there are former Nationals everywhere. Some of those players are thriving. This season, two former Nationals players were All-Stars (Lucas Giolito and Felipe Vazquez) and the year before there were three (Wilson Ramos, Blake Treinen, Vazquez).

It's not often you see a franchise have multiple former players on the All-Star team, but that has been the case for the Nationals in recent years. It's a testament to their ability to find talent. The other way to look at it, of course, is that they have made some regrettable decisions. Giolito and Vasquez, in particular, were part of trades that are now second-guessed.

But in simply evaluating the talent that used to be in Washington, an interesting question can be posed. Would a team comprised solely of former Nats players make the playoffs?

There is no way of truly knowing the answer, but that didn't stop me from trying. Some of it was easy, like who would play right field. Filling out the bench, however, was a bit of a chore. It was the type of extensive research that reminds you Matt Skole is still in the majors and that Marcus Stroman and Khris Davis were both drafted by the Nationals before going to college.

Just being drafted by the Nats, though, was not enough to make the cut. These players had to have at least been in the minor league system before moving on. Those who were traded as prospects before they became big leaguers count because the Nats gave up on them before their MLB careers were over.

With all that said, here is how the 25-man roster would look with their 2019 stats in parentheses...

STARTERS

C - Wilson Ramos, Mets (14 HR, 72 RBI, 109 OPS+, 1.8 bWAR)
1B - Mark Reynolds, Rockies (4 HR, 20 RBI, 46 OPS+, -1.0 bWAR)
2B - Daniel Murphy, Rockies (13 HR, 77 RBI, 92 OPS+, 0.4 bWAR)
SS - Ian Desmond, Rockies (17 HR, 61 RBI, 83 OPS+, -1.9 bWAR)
3B - Sheldon Neuse, Athletics (0 HR, 5 RBI, 78 OPS+, 0.2 bWAR)
LF - Steven Souza Jr., Diamondbacks (yet to debut due to injury)
CF - Brian Goodwin, Angels (16 HR, 45 RBI, 115 OPS+, 2.1 bWAR)
RF - Bryce Harper, Phillies (31 HR, 102 RBI, 121 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR)

ROTATION

SP - Lucas Giolito, White Sox (3.41 ERA, 228 SO, 5.8 bWAR) 
SP - Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks (4.30 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.5 bWAR)
SP - Tanner Roark, Athletics (4.01 ERA, 112 ERA+, 0.0 bWAR)
SP - Gio Gonzalez, Brewers (4.01 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.2 bWAR)
SP - Brad Peacock, Astros (4.06 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1.4 bWAR)

BULLPEN

CL - Felipe Vazquez, Pirates (1.65 ERA, 28 SV, 2.9 bWAR)
RP - Yusmeiro Petit, Athletics (2.83 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, 2.0 bWAR)
RP - Mark Melancon, Braves (3.92 ERA, 111 ERA+, 0.6 bWAR)
RP - Tyler Clippard, Indians (2.87 ERA, 0.821 WHIP, 1.4 bWAR)
RP - Shawn Kelley, Rangers (4.03 ERA, 129 ERA+, 1.3 bWAR)
RP - Brandon Kintzler, Cubs (2.82 ERA, 160 ERA+, 1.5 bWAR)
RP - Blake Treinen, Athletics (4.91 ERA, 16 SV, -0.4 bWAR)
RP - Craig Stammen, Padres (3.51 ERA, 121 ERA+, 0.5 bWAR)

BENCH

C - Pedro Severino, Orioles (13 HR, 44 RBI, 104 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR)
INF - Tony Renda, Red Sox (in Triple-A)
INF - Matt Skole, White Sox (0 HR, 6 RBI, 56 OPS+, -0.4 bWAR)
C - Sandy Leon, Red Sox (5 HR, 17 RBI, 43 OPS+, -0.5 bWAR)

As you can see, the team would have some legitimate stars. A lineup with Harper, Ramos and Goodwin could be solid. And Desmond and Murphy are still productive players, at least on offense.

The rotation would be fairly good as well. There is an All-Star ace in Giolito and some capable depth with Roark, Ray, Gonzalez and Peacock. It would be a top-heavy group, but no one would stand out as not belonging in a big league rotation. And notice how it doesn't include Jordan Zimmermann, Reynaldo Lopez or Nick Pivetta.

The clear strength of this group would be the bullpen, in a cruel twist of irony. The Nats would love to have a number of their former relievers on this year's team, which currently sports the league's worst bullpen ERA. 

A bullpen comprised of former Nats pitchers would be quite good. Vazquez is one of the game's best closers and Petit, Clippard and Kintzler all have sub-3.00 ERAs. Based on ERA+, Melancon, Kelley and Stammen have been above league average this season. And Treinen is having a down year, but finished sixth in Cy Young voting last season.

That bullpen would be significantly better than the Nats' current group and might rank among the very best in the majors. Consider that the Cleveland Indians, owners of the best bullpen ERA in the majors, have four relievers with at least one win above replacement according to Baseball Reference. The Ex-Nats would have five.

Now, the team of former Nationals would have some weaknesses. Defense would be a disaster with Reynolds, Murphy and Desmond at first, second and short. And just to make a lineup, I put Neuse in there despite the fact he's only appeared in 14 big league games. He's a former second round pick of the Nats who was in the Sean Doolittle deal back in 2017.

There is also Souza, who is nearing the end of his recovery from torn ligaments in his knee and may not return until the postseason, if he returns this year at all. So, perhaps his inclusion was a little cheap.

Also, that bench. Woof. Turns out the Nats have let some good players go, but not enough to fill out a particularly deep roster, at least outside of the catcher spot. Though, in exploring options for the final bench spots, I discovered that Brandon Phillips - a former Expos draft pick and prospect - spent time in the Independent League and the Mexican League this year. That alone made all of this worth the trouble.

Okay, back to the central question of this piece: would a team of former Nats make the playoffs? The answer is probably not because of their depth and defense. But there is an argument for why they would at least have a chance.

One is that the pitching staff top-to-bottom could be playoff-caliber. Also, if you believe in bWAR, there is a statistical case. The Rockies, for comparison, made the playoffs last season with 12 players on their roster with at least one bWAR. There are 13 ex-Nationals that can say that this season.

So, could the Ex-Nats make the playoffs? Probably not. But they would almost certainly be better than the Orioles, Tigers or Marlins.

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Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

Don't worry Nationals fans, Anthony Rendon was never going to be a Dodger

While Nationals fans are understandably disappointed Anthony Rendon is no longer a member of the Nationals, they can rest easy knowing he didn't see himself signing the the NL rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers never made an offer to Rendon, per The Athletic, after "sensing that he didn’t want to play in Los Angeles." He instead signed with the Los Angeles Angels, inking a seven-year, $245 million deal to play for the California team that receives considerably less media attention than its in-state rival.

Now entrenched in the AL on the other side of the country, Rendon won't face the Nationals very often nor will his team's play have any effect on Washington's playoff chances from year to year. It was a best-case scenario for fans after it became likely he wouldn't be returning to Washington.

After being spurned by Rendon and losing out on top free-agent pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the Dodgers are still looking to make their first big move of the offseason.

There's still plenty of time for them to make a move, but Los Angeles can expect little sympathy from Nationals fans that Rendon won't be suiting up in Dodger blue for the next seven years.

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Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Nationals trading for a third baseman is possible -- as long as it’s not Nolan Arenado

Here’s the list of players on the Nationals’ active roster who could play third base: Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll, Adrián Sánchez, Howie Kendrick, Carter Kieboom. Career major-league starts at the position: Difo, 29; Noll, one; Sánchez, nine; Kendrick, 25; Kieboom, zero. 

Such is the state of third base for the defending World Series champions. Not good. 

Which makes Josh Donaldson’s agent smile and any semi-skilled third baseman with a pulse a possible target. Possible trades? Count the Nationals in. On most. Not on Nolan Arenado. That’s a non-starter because Washington is not going to send assets (prospects) for a contract it was unwilling to give Anthony Rendon in the first place. Zero chance. Zilch.

However, Kris Bryant is more intriguing depending on the years and ask -- as always with trades. Beyond him and Kyle Seager, is there another third baseman the Nationals could pursue in a trade? The question takes on weight because of the aforementioned toothless list of in-house candidates and shallow free-agent talent pool beyond Donaldson.

Any trade consideration needs to begin with an understanding of the parameters Washington is working from. Last season, Rendon’s one-year deal to avoid arbitration earned him $18.8 million. When Washington looks at the cost for its next third baseman, the number will be similar to last season’s cost for Rendon. A bump in the competitive balance tax threshold, plus savings at first base and catcher, provide the Nationals wiggle room for increases in spots. So, $18-25 million annually for a third baseman is in play.

Second, the Nationals’ farm system needs to be taken into account. Their 2018 first-round pick, Mason Denaburg, had shoulder problems last year. Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings that Denaburg is healthy and progressing. But, the early shoulder irritation for a high school pitcher who also had problems his senior year with biceps tendinitis provides his stock pause. He’s a would-be trade chip. So is Kieboom.

But, what is Kieboom’s value? What damage did it receive during his rocky, and brief, appearance in the majors last season? Did his potent hitting in the Pacific Coast League after being sent back mitigate his big-league struggles? 

Beyond Kieboom, the farm system’s next tier is manned by Luis Garcia, 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge, Wil Crowe and Tim Cate, among others. Only Garcia is part of MLB.com’s top-100 prospects list (which is more of a guide than an industry standard).

So, when Bryant or Seager -- or anyone not named Arenado -- are mentioned, know where the Nationals are coming from. If they are positioned to take on money, they don’t want to use assets to do it (this is the Donaldson Scenario). If they can save money, find a solid player and retain the few high-end assets, then a trade could be in play (this would be the Seager Scenario, if Seattle pays some of the contract). 

The Bryant Scenario is the most appealing and challenging. He’s the best player of the group. However, acquiring him would be high-cost and short-term. Bryant has two years remaining before he can become a free agent -- with an outside shot at becoming a free agent after next season because of a grievance he filed against the Cubs for service-time manipulation. Obtaining him would likely focus on multiple pitching prospects.

There is no Arenado Scenario. Just a reminder.

Piled together, Washington is in a tough spot. What it has is not enough. What it needs will be costly.

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