Yunel Escobar is batting .322/.370/.411 and is getting All Star consideration. Danny Espinosa is looking great with a .266/.348/.449 line which would give him the 4th highest OPS among all major league shortstops.
Anthony Rendon is off the DL and is starting to look like his old self.
In the minors, Wilmer Difo has looked good in Harrisburg and Trea Turner has demolished AA so thoroughly that he is now in Syracuse. The promotion of Turner is probably nothing more than the Nats prepping him for a September call up and 2016. I don’t really see them ready to put him on the roster now, but stranger things have happened.
Meanwhile, despite a walk-off sac fly and a HR yesterday, Ian Desmond continues to struggle. He is hitting .224/.268/.350, which, to give some perspective, is worse than what Espinosa did last season. He is in the last year of his contract, and, even if there is a hot streak in front of him, it’s hard to imagine the Nats even pursuing him this offseason.
This all begs the question, are the Nats interested in trading him? It might be time, if they can convince other teams that he does indeed have a hot streak in front of him. And keep in mind this is the NL Silver Slugger at SS for the last three seasons. So what would the Nats get in exchange?
Well, his rental status will limit their return, so I examined bullpen help because that tends to be cheaper. And I couldn’t even begin to speculate what kind of prospect/minor league help they might get for someone like Desmond. It would likely be outside of the top prospect tier, so at that point it would just be blind guessing for me, which is why I didn’t speculate on that.
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City is in first place in the AL Central, thanks in large part to their great pitching staff, especially their bullpen. And while they may have some All Stars in their infield, their second baseman Omar Infante is batting .236/.243/.319. Not only are his numbers worse than Desmond’s, he doesn’t have the power potential to lift them up the way Desi does if he goes on a hot streak.
The Royals rely on situational hitting to put themselves in the middle of the pack in runs scored, in part because they have no power. Desmond has hit more home runs in each of the last 4 seasons than anyone on the Royals did last year. Or the year before that.
In exchange, the Nats may be able to get some bullpen help. The Royals have a MLB-best 2.06 ERA from their bullpen, and while the Nats are in the middle of the league in this, they’ve have their issues. Kelvin Herrera is under team control until the end of 2018, and Greg Holland might be untouchable, but there are other options. Despite Wade Davis’ spectacular season, he’s a free agent in October and could be available (no doubt for more than just Desmond). A resurgent Ryan Madsen is also an intriguing.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are in first place, thanks to their offense. Yeah, the team that was supposed to have no offense at all has scored the second most runs in the AL. This is certainly thanks to guys like McCann, Gardner, Ellsbury, a resurgent Teixeira and yes, Alex Rodriguez. What hasn’t helped is their middle infield. Didi Gregorius has been terrible, hitting .236/.289/.332, and Stephen Drew has been as bad, hitting .187/.255/.384. Fill-ins Jose Pirela and Gregorio Petit have been worse.
Both Gregorius and Drew are left-handed hitters who at least put up better numbers versus righties. In Gregorius’ case, his .484 OPS vs LHPs ranks 173 out of 187 players with 50+ PAs (David Ortiz ranks 187!), while Desmond’s numbers are slightly better against lefties than righties. The Yankees could use Desmond in a platoon, and even more if he starts to hit at all, as their middle infield options aren’t.
The Yankees also have an very good bullpen, although they are in a different boat than the Royals. With their weak starting rotation, they may be less willing to give up a reliever, especially with Andrew Miller’s injury. They also don’t have the bullpen depth that the Royals do, so they don’t have as many guys the Nats might want that they’d be willing to give up.
You know who’s in the NL Central race? The Cubs. You know who’s been terrible? Starlin Castro. Castro’s been hitting .261/.294/.339 for the Cubs, so it’s not like he’s been worse than Desmond – a little less power, a bit more average and OBP makes him the better offensive player, by some measures, worse by others. But his defense has been worse, and, more importantly, his relationship with the team is notoriously difficult.
Would the Cubs consider getting a rental as a pre-text to moving him? Possibly. The Nats might not be able to get much great for Desmond from a team that’s getting similar production out of their SS, but if the Cubs really want to dump Castro, he’s got so much talent, the Nats ought to consider. A change-of-scenery trade that could help both teams might be a reach, but that really depends on how much the Cubs front office wants to move Castro.
Los Angeles Angels
They’ve got Erick Aybar at short, and he’s still got another year on his contract, but his OPS is lower than Desmond’s. Their backup is Taylor Featherston, a 25-year old rookie hitting .114/.167/.227, and, other than Pujols and Trout, this is an offense that is struggling big time. Seriously, their third best OPS among active players is David Freese with .699.
The Angels do have some bullpen depth to help the Nats out, and it could be interesting to see if they could get a guy like Joe Smith, has a worse ERA than he’s had in the recent past (still quite good) but a better FIP.
All of these moves are, of course, totally speculative with no evidence that either side wants to even move players. But it is interesting to note, with as bad as Desmond has been, that there are teams out there that could probably use him. If that Nats are interested in moving him, there are contenders that are probably interested in listening.
As for the question of whether the Nats should move him… I think it’s worth exploring. If they can really make a deal to get a Wade Davis or something that can really help in the bullpen, then it’s probably worth it. Or if they could land some prospect that Rizzo loves, yeah, maybe. But it’s not a necessary move, and they probably shouldn’t be trading him just to trade him. With the injuries this team has already had, just the insurance of Desmond being around is nice to have. Of course, he’s not insurance, he’s a starter, for better or for worse. So, if they can’t get something great for him… do they have to play him so much?