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Trade Talk: The Washington Nationals

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Last year, the Nationals won 98 games, the most of any team in baseball. And though they didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs, it was supposed to mark the beginning of an era, fronted by top shelf, super young and (maybe most importantly) affordable talent like 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg and 20-year-old Bryce Harper.

Viewed through that lens, 2013 has been a disaster. But without those expectations, there is still plenty of hope. The Nationals are slightly over .500, 6.5 games back of the division and 4.5 games back of the Wild Card. Strasburg and Harper are back after some injury scares. And it’s not like the Braves, who Washington is chasing in the NL East, have a recent history of rising to the occasion.

What They Need
If you listen to their GM, Mike Rizzo, they don’t need anything. “We’d like to get a big, left-handed bat. His name is Harper,” says Rizzo. “He’s on the horizon. We’d like to get a right-handed hitting catcher named [Wilson] Ramos. He’s on the horizon.”

But that isn’t entirely genuine. Nationals scouts have been tied to starting pitches, such as the Cubs’ Matt Garza. The team sports three of the top starting pitchers in the National League – Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez – but the last two spots, particularly the one filled by Dan Haren, have struggled.

The Nationals have also lacked consistent right-handed power. Rizzo hopes that Ramos might be able to provide some of that when he returns from an injured hamstring later this week. Ideally, that power could also be provided from the well-compensated Jayson Werth, but he only has 201 plate appearances due to various injuries.

What Might Work
In case the name “Ramos” didn’t ring a bell, the Nationals and Twins have danced at the deadline recently more than once. Besides the Ramos-Matt Capps trade, there were lots of rumors about them nearly trading Denard Span to the Nationals two years ago. The Twins would probably love to pluck some talent from the Nationals well-regarded farm system, but its not clear they have the pieces the Nationals need.

If Washington is looking for an inning-eater to plug the hole at the back of their rotation, someone like Kevin Correia might be of interest, but they’re not going to pay much for him. And while the Nationals’ interest in a right-handed masher might have sounded promising last year, unless Josh Willingham can get healthy in a hurry, he’s no better (and in fact is quite a bit worse), than Werth.

There is one area the Twins might be able to fill, though the Nationals haven’t been rumored to be pursuing it. Despite having a strong bullpen highlighted by Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, they really don’t have any reliable left-handed relievers.

Sleeper Targets
There are some guys in the Nationals farm system who aren’t flashy prospects, but decent fits for the Twins. When neither side is looking for too much, some middle ground can often be found. Here are some names from down the prospect list which could conceivably interest the Twins:

Chris Marrero – 1B – AAA – 24 years old
Marrero was a decent prospect for the Nationals who never showed the power for which they hoped and was passed in the organizational depth chart last year when he had a hamstring injury. But he’s fairly young, hit .300 this year in AAA with an 842 OPS and his right-handed bat might play well with Parmelee’s left-handed bat at first base.

Zach Walters –SS – AAA – 23 years old
Walters finds himself with a “utility” label, but he has a unique skill set. He’s decent defensively, relying on a very strong arm to increase his range, but Adam Everett made a career out of that. This year he’s hitting just .245 in AAA with 72 K and just 9 walks – but he’s slugging over .500 with 18 home runs. I don’t know if that makes him an everyday guy, but at the least he can fill two roles on the bench.

Matt Purke – LHP – High A – 22 years old
He’s coming back from injury, but he’s a southpaw that can throw 90+ mph and just struck out 41 while walking 7 in Low A. That seems like a decent flyer to take.

Dream Target
Nate Karns – RHP – AA – 25 years old
The Nationals were desperate enough for pitching to call up Karns straight from AA for a few starts this year. He predictably struggled and was sent back, but after missing 2010 and 2011 with shoulder surgery, it’s got to be gratifying for him to even be given that shot.

He earned the shortcut. This year in AA he has struck out 67 in 56 innings with 22 walks, featuring a fastball that can reach 95. He’s also got the offspeed stuff to remain a starter, though his mechanics and injury history could eventually ticket him for the bullpen. Either way, he’ll be higher on the Nationals prospect lists than the five-ish range he populated at the beginning of the season.

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Each day in July, we’ll be publishing a profile of a MLB and whether there is any possible fit for a trade with the Twins. Tomorrow: The Philadelphia Phillies. For more, check out our previous trade talks:


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