Hey everyone, remember me? Today the Nationals announced that they’ve acquired their first baseman, at least for the next few seasons, Josh Bell. I really like this trade, in case the title wasn’t enough of a clue. It’s a late Hanukkah present for Nats fans… wait, I’m being told it’s actually an early Christmas present, and I should be making Jingle Bell puns. Too late, on to the player himself!
Bell is a power hitting (and switch hitting!) first baseman , which checks off one of the top 5 on my “List of Things the Nats absolutely need to get this offseason”, so that’s a great start. Bell hit 37 home runs in 2019, and slashed .277/.367/.569. He’s not a great batting average guy, but he walks, and he’s only 28, so he’s in what non-superstars often call their prime. His 2020 was atrocious, but if you are the optimistic type, you believe his age 26 season showed what he really is, that everything prior to that was just him maturing, and 2020 was a COVID-season-induced aberration.
Unfortunately, even that 2019 has some caveats. Much of that year was built on the back of a completely insane May when he hit 12 HRs and hit .390/.442/.797. Now, it’s great that he has that ability in him, but the rest of the year he had an .851 OPS. Not bad, but nothing great. Still, it’s a solid regular first baseman. Except… he can’t hit lefties very well. A platoon is almost certainly in order, which might give Starlin Castro, who leaves me unimpressed as a full-time starter, some extra ABs, depending on who else they acquire. Or, it could give them an easy excuse to give Ryan Zimmerman one more year. Oh, and Bell is legit bad at fielding, so whenever they institute the DH, the Nats may find themselves needing a 1B.
In exchange for Bell, they gave up two pitchers. One, Wil Crowe, was considered a top 5 prospect for the Nats, but this isn’t based on a high-ceiling, just a likelihood of being an actual full time (bottom of the rotation) starter. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, and at 26, hasn’t shown he’s really ready. He’s not even a top 10 prospect for the Pirates, which reflects on the general atrociousness of the Nats minor league system. The other player traded, Eddy Yean, is the more intriguing prospect, a hard throwing 19-year old with a blazing fastball and a decent slider. But he’s probably a few years away from cracking a Major League rotation, even in Pittsburgh. In other words, exactly the kind of guy a team like the Nats should be trading.
Regardless of whether or not the insane 2019 Josh Bell shows up, his career OPS+ of 116 suggests a solid regular first baseman with the bat, perhaps nothing special, but good. Then again, if that 2019 is a preview of things to come, he really could be something special. My most favorite thing about Bell so far, if you want to be a dreamer, is that in his B-R most similar batters ranking you get Tino Martinez, Adam LaRoche, and the iconic Nick Johnson. Oh yeah, and David Ortiz.
I really like this trade for the Nats, they got at least a solid regular for a pretty low cost, and have filled out a gaping hole in their lineup. But this absolutely can’t be it for their offense. The Nats really have two great hitters in Soto and Trea, and if everything goes well, the supporting cast is strong, and it just got quite a bit stronger. But if they want to compete in their division, let alone the league, they’ll need one more game-changing type bat to get it done. (Unless, you know, we get May 2019 Josh Bell all the time).