Easing their way into the trade deadline, the Washington Nationals traded utility man Ehire Adrianza to the Atlanta Braves for 26-year-old outfielder Trey Harris on Monday. When the deal was announced by both clubs, there were about 30 hours left for the Nationals to stage a sell-off for the second consecutive year. That they found a landing spot for Adrianza — and that they netted a low-risk, low-cost player in the process — was an early win on the margins.
Adrianza, 32, signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Nationals in March. He spent 2021 with the Braves, playing six positions during their title season. With Washington, he spent most of the year recovering from a quad injury suffered toward the end of spring training. He appeared in 31 games and had a .179 batting average, a .255 on-base percentage and a .202 slugging percentage in 94 plate appearances. He was starting more recently, mostly for Maikel Franco at third base, perhaps because the last-place Nationals wanted to showcase him ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.
“I wish I would have seen more of Ehire here because I know the kind of player that he is,” Manager Dave Martinez said Monday afternoon. “He got off to a slow start, and I really believe it’s because he was injured. He had a bad injury with his quad, and he really couldn’t get going. But I loved having him.”
To replace Adrianza on the active and 40-man rosters, the Nationals recalled infielder Ildemaro Vargas from Class AAA Rochester. Vargas, 31, is a smooth defender and a light hitter who bats from both sides of the plate. He has been with four major league teams and had a short stint with the Chicago Cubs in May. To clear room for Adrianza, the Braves designated Robinson Canó for assignment.
Aside from Juan Soto, Washington still has Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek and Kyle Finnegan to potentially move before 6 p.m. Tuesday. And because Adrianza was somewhat of a surprise trade chip, it’s worth remembering that it’s hard to fully know what contenders need ahead of the stretch run. In that sense, Monday’s swap felt similar to when the Nationals sent left-hander Jon Lester to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Lane Thomas in 2021.
Harris has not played above Class AA, meaning he’s well behind where Thomas was upon arriving in Washington — and having not debuted yet, under team control for six seasons once his service clock starts ticking. Generally, though, a depth arm is more valuable than a light-hitting utility player.
The analog is that, at the last chance to get players from other clubs, the Braves have a specific role in mind for Adrianza and see limited upside in Harris. That made them good trading partners with the Nationals, even though General Manager Mike Rizzo prefers not to move players within the National League East.
For the past two seasons, Harris has been with Class AA Mississippi. And since 2019, the right-handed hitter has tried to rediscover what landed him the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best offensive player in Atlanta’s system.
That year, Harris finished with a .323 batting average, a .389 on-base percentage and a .498 slugging percentage across three levels, swatting 14 homers and 26 doubles. But a full-time leap to Class AA has proved difficult: Harris has a slash line of .238/.338/.323 in 220 plate appearances this season.
His average and slugging percentage are a tick lower than where they ended up last year. His on-base percentage is a few ticks higher. A 32nd-round draft pick out of Missouri in 2018, Harris has played all three outfield positions with a share of his appearances in right. MLB Pipeline ranked him the Braves’ 29th-best prospect.
As recently noted by De Jon Watson, the Nationals’ director of player development, the organization is short on bats and overall talent in Class AA. A thin, top-heavy system is highlighted by pitchers with Class AAA Rochester and a handful of bats at the lower levels. And while the gap will be addressed when Brady House, Jeremy De La Rosa and T.J. White, among others, advance in the future, there’s no harm in taking a flier on a struggling hitter such as Harris in the meantime.
The costs were minimal. The next step for the Nationals, then, is to see how many deals like this they can find.
“This is the first one,” Martinez said. “Who knows what is going to happen in the next 48 hours?”