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Putting Juan Soto aside, Nationals near another active trade deadline

The Nationals will listen to trade offers for Kyle Finnegan, who has been their best reliever. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

On Friday, Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Finnegan, Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. will share a clubhouse in Phoenix, beginning the second half of the season on the worst team in baseball. And in two weeks, in what was mostly a planned step of the Washington Nationals’ rebuild, they might be wearing different uniforms, shifting gears for a pennant race.

Moving Soto was not an original part of the blueprint. The Nationals are only fielding trade offers for their 23-year-old star — and they’re really fielding trade offers — after he turned down 15 years and $440 million, a contract offer his agent, Scott Boras, told the New York Post wasn’t “even in the range of consideration.” But shipping out Bell, Cruz, Finnegan, Cishek, Edwards or anyone else attracting interest before the Aug. 2 trade deadline? Not contingent on record-breaking offers or the Nationals’ .330 winning percentage.

Consider it more a matter of course.

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Setting Soto aside for a moment, not all of those players are the same shape of trade candidate. Bell, Cruz and Cishek are not signed past 2022, making it logical to recoup some value in minor leaguers. Bell, a 29-year-old first baseman, is the club’s most obvious trade chip not named Juan Soto. Cruz, a 42-year-old designated hitter, has struggled and is expected to fetch far less than he did last summer, when the Twins traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays in a deal that netted Joe Ryan, who was Minnesota’s Opening Day starter this year. Cishek, a 36-year-old reliever, is a dependable, durable arm who has had trouble finding the optimal movement for his slider in 2022. As with Cruz, any return for Cishek, if the Nationals can move him, is expected to be minimal.

From there, Finnegan and Edwards fit in the same category as relievers with team control remaining. Their value, though, does not line up so neatly. Edwards, a 30-year-old righty, signed a minor league deal over the winter and is under control through 2023. He could net a coin-flip prospect from a team that likes his cutter and improved curve. But Finnegan, 30 and Washington’s best reliever, is under control for three more seasons after this one, perhaps making him the club’s most intriguing chess piece.

The Nationals will listen to offers for Finnegan, according to multiple people with knowledge of their plans, and they planned to do so with Tanner Rainey before his season ended with an elbow sprain. Rainey’s injury could require Tommy John surgery, keeping him out for at least 12 months. Finnegan, on the other hand, is ready to pitch high-leverage innings for a contender.

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In 39 first-half appearances, Finnegan has the best strikeout and walk rates of his three-year career. His fastball is almost averaging 97 mph, another high mark. While Bell was almost an all-star — posting a .311 batting average, a .390 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage in 93 games — he’s only a rental for August, September and maybe October. With Finnegan, Washington can dangle those months plus three additional seasons.

Maybe the Nationals will package him with a hitter to compound the return. Maybe they will find the right deal for Finnegan alone. Whatever the case, the team doesn’t have to trade Finnegan at the risk of losing him for nothing this offseason. That means it will have to be convinced by a great offer. It’s the ideal position to negotiate from.

Heading into the all-star break, the Nationals had lost 15 of 17 games. They are 31-63, 27½ games in back of the first-place New York Mets, and prepping to gut their roster some more. Almost a year ago, when it seemed as if the first teardown was finished, when the clock struck 3 p.m. on deadline day, Washington slipped in a one-for-one trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. This is important to remember as Aug. 2 nears.

The Nationals dealt lefty Jon Lester, who had a 5.02 ERA, for 25-year-old outfielder Lane Thomas. The lesson: This time of year can be hard to predict.

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