Deadline-day addition Brandon Kintzler joined the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night in Miami, just in time to help against the defending World Series champion Cubs in Chicago this weekend. The Nationals added four key pieces by the deadline, all of whom have made a dramatic impact in their short tenures. Could they still add more?
The Nationals have a history of making deals after the nonwaiver trade deadline — despite the waivers hurdle. After July 31, players can only be traded if their team places them on revocable waivers. If a team claims that player, his original team can pull him back, let the team take him and absorb his contract or work out a deal. Last season, the Nationals claimed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, then traded a prospect to the Athletics to get him. The left-hander made their playoff roster last season. Deals can still get done, and they can matter.
Under Mike Rizzo, the Nationals have acquired relievers this way more than once. Before Rzepczynski, they got another veteran lefty, Matt Thornton, who pitched for them in the 2014 playoffs. While former all-stars such as Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Jose Bautista could all be dealt on waivers this season — their salaries are high enough that no team would likely grab them outside a trade — the Nationals have no history of acquiring big stars at this time of year. Provided Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are both okay, they should not need to. Given that Jayson Werth and Trea Turner seem to be nearing returns, the Nationals’ roster could be nearly set, with no more outside help to come.
After their deadline moves, the Nationals have spent as much as they ever have on their roster, around $170 million in payroll, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts (which has yet to be updated to include their deadline acquisitions — about $7 million in prorated salary). Last year’s end-of-year payroll, their highest ever, sat at $170 million.
For the first time in their history, the Nationals are past the collective bargaining tax threshold ($195 million), in which payroll is calculated using the average annual value of contracts and includes an approximate $13 million for player benefits. Because they are first-time offenders, this will cost them 20 percent of their overage. That the Nationals are over the threshold at all signals unprecedented spending and likely means they will not be able to shoulder the kind of massive contracts that get traded this time of year, even if they did have interest.
So, barring injury and subsequent unexpected acquisitions, the roster likely is what it will be by the time October rolls around. Assuming the long list of injured Nationals returns — a phrase repeated often this season — what exactly do they have?
They would have a starting lineup of, from left to right, Jayson Werth, Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper in the outfield. They have Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman in the infield, with Matt Wieters catching. They would have a bench of Jose Lobaton, Stephen Drew, Howie Kendrick, Adam Lind and likely Brian Goodwin or Wilmer Difo.
Knock on wood if you must, but they would also have a playoff rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, with Edwin Jackson as a fifth starter and Erick Fedde filling in along the way. And their revamped bullpen — assuming eight relievers in October — could consist of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, Joe Blanton, Matt Albers, Enny Romero (who left Wednesday night’s game with a forearm strain) and Oliver Perez. If Koda Glover returns, the Nationals could have a numbers problem. Matt Grace and Sammy Solis also could be left out. The Nationals would have the luxury of bullpen experience.
Assuming everyone is healthy, and that is a risky and major assumption, the Nationals have plenty of firepower now, a more-adept bullpen and are dripping with experience. Having already spent more on this team than any team prior, the Nationals seem unlikely to add much in the post-deadline days. But they have found key pieces at this time before and could do so again.