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Nationals face some tough decisions

July 31, 2018

The Washington Nationals, in late July of 2011, traded veteran pitcher Jason Marquis to Arizona and sent well-traveled position player Jerry Hairston, Jr., to Milwaukee, getting a minor leaguer in return each time.

The Nationals were 51-56 at the end of July seven years ago, but since then have found themselves in the pennant race nearly every year with no interest in dealing veterans for prospects at the trade deadline.

That could be changing in the next few hours, with this year’s Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline set for Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The third-place Nationals (52-53), who have not won back-to-back series since May, entered Monday six games back of first-place Philadelphia and 4 games behind second-place Atlanta in the National League East.

Washington, which begins a nine-game homestand Tuesday against the New York Mets, has won the previous two division titles and was the favorite this year.

“This is definitely a pivotal point for us right now,” manager Dave Martinez told the Associated Press. “If we’re going to get back in this thing, we’ve got to come out every single day and play like it’s our last game of the season and play to win.”

But after splitting four games last weekend in Miami, the Nationals and their front office have to decide what they will do buy, sell or stand pat. Here is a look at those options:

BUY

The Nationals have some glaring holes to be filled if they are going to make a playoff push.

That includes the lack of offense from their catchers and a need for more starting pitchers.

Veteran Matt Wieters, the everyday catcher, is hitting .196 with just three homers in the last year of a two-year deal. Rookie Spencer Kieboom, the backup catcher, has an average of .215 with no homers.

Marlins All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto has been a target of the Nationals for several months, according to reports. But his asking price could be too high for Washington, which doesn’t want to part with star outfielders Juan Soto (.310) or Victor Robles, who has returned to Triple-A Syracuse.

The Washington starting rotation has taken a hit with Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90) on the disabled list twice this summer and recent slumps from veterans Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

Roark (4-12, 4.55) picked up his first win in nearly two months July 25 when he won in Milwaukee. He is slated to start Tuesday against the Mets, with Tommy Milone (filling in for Strasburg) pitching on Wednesday at 12:05 p.m.

Gonzalez (6-7, 3.78) has not won a game since late May in Baltimore but did pitch well on Saturday in Miami, giving up just one run in seven innings.

Philadelphia and Atlanta, the two teams above Washington in the standings, have already made trades this month.

The Braves on Sunday acquired veteran reliever Brad Brach from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for international slot money.

“He gets to go to a club that is in the pennant race,” Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said of Brach. “He can add a good veteran presence.”

The Phillies acquired hot-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who played for the Nationals in 2014, from the New York Mets last week.

Meanwhile, Washington is 10-18 in one-run games and 2-6 in extra innings the worst mark in the league.

SELL

The Nationals have plenty of veterans who will be free agents after this season.

The list includes starting pitcher Gonzalez, infielder Daniel Murphy, first baseman Matt Adams, and relief pitchers Ryan Madson and Shawn Kelley. Murphy has been slowed by October knee surgery and could be attractive to an American League team as a designated hitter.

And of course there’s the biggest prize of the bunch All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan last week it would take “a spectacular set of circumstances” to trade Harper, who is hitting .220 with 25 homers. He hit .188 in June.

Many fans, according to message boards, would be happy to see Harper go in exchange for prospects.

Adding to the bad vibes: Strasburg and ace Max Scherzer exchanged words in the dugout on July 20, and Sunday shortstop Trea Turner apologized for insensitive tweets he made while in college. Other than that July has been just dandy.

STAND PAT

This may be the worst scenario of all: Doing nothing. But it might be what the Nats do.

“I think they are in No Man’s land,” said an American League scout. “That is what I am hearing. I would not be surprised if they held” with the current roster.

Washington has won four division titles since 2012. Whether or not they win a fifth could be determined in the next few hours.

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