Nationals trade deadline notes and thoughts

(Alex Brandon/AP)

(Alex Brandon/AP)

The trade deadline will arrive in 11 days, and it’s still unclear whether the Nationals will make any moves beyond their trade for right-handed bench player Scott Hairston. The market for starting pitchers may speed up if and when the Rangers and Cubs finalize a deal for Matt Garza that is reportedly close, but not certain.

Will the Nationals be involved in that market? It may depend on any number of scenarios. Under Mike Rizzo, the Nationals have shown an unwillingness to deal for rental players. As discussed here, there could come a scenario in which it is prudent to ditch that guiding principle. But if the Nationals do want to trade for a pitcher, two potential trade candidates offer control beyond this season. Astros right-hander Bud Norris would come with contractual control through 2015, and Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo is under contract through 2014 with a team option for 2015.

The Nationals and Astros have yet to have any substantive talks regarding Norris, one person familiar with the situation said. The person added the Astros will make it “painful” for any team trading for Norris – in other words, they will ask a lot for a 27-year-old who has a 94 OPS+ and a 2.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio since the start of last season.

Gallardo, 27, has a much better pedigree despite his struggles this season. He has a 4.83 ERA. His fastball velocity has decreased from a career average of 92 mph to 90.8, and his strikeouts-per-nine rate has dropped from 9.0 to 7.2. It’s not known whether the Nationals have engaged the Brewers, but there is no indication they have.

Some rival executives continue to believe the Nationals seek a starter to bolster the back of their rotation, especially with the condition of Ross Detwiler prompting little optimism. The Nationals may be planning contingencies. In 11 days, Detwiler may be recovered and Dan Haren may have another couple of strong starts under his belt. On the flip side, the Nationals may be 10 games behind the Braves and decide this is not the year to mortgage prospects.

Now, if the deadline approaches and the Nationals are hanging around between four and seven games of the Braves, and Detwiler’s back is still barking? They would almost have to make a trade, especially given Taylor Jordan’s innings limit.

For now, the Nationals seem to be waiting. Only Rizzo knows what course of action they will take.

The rotation no longer seems to be the only possible target for improvement. After the Nationals traded for Hairston, Rizzo said he had done what he wanted with the bench. But the Nationals may need to consider adding left-handed punch as Chad Tracy scuffles. He’s 8 for 43 as a pinch hitter and batting .149 overall. Roger Bernadina isn’t helping the left-handed portion of the Nationals bench, either, hitting .187 with a .539 OPS.

Both players have far better track records, and so the Nationals would not be crazy to believe their performance will improve as they regress toward the mean. Tracy has proven himself to be adept at pinch-hitting, one of the toughest jobs in the sport. But if the Nationals decide they need an upgrade, one name surfaced today that would take only money to acquire.

Yesterday, the Yankees released Brennan Bosch as he recovers from an injury. He has an .831 OPS this season. Bosch should be available to play in a couple weeks, and the market for his services will likely heat up next week.

If the Nationals make a significant deal for a pitcher, two opposing scouts suggested infielder Zach Walters, 23, could be a prospect to build a trade around. Walters, an International League all-star, can play any infield position. He has never played outfield, but one of the scouts said he has the athleticism to take on a super-utility role. He has only a .270 on-base percentage at Class AAA Syracuse, but has 19 homers and a .490 slugging percentage. One scout slapped a Ben Zobrist comparison on him. That may be a tad optimistic. Still, he’s close to the majors and the Nationals’ deepest position in the minors is middle infield, so he could well be a name that gets bounced around in the next couple weeks.

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