Now that the Washington Nationals have signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal, they have an opportunity to make a blockbuster trade involving one of their aces. The Nationals, for all intents and purposes, have two aces, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. The idea is that, since they’ve acquired a third ace, one of those two pitchers will become available in a trade. Zimmermann is headed for free agency after 2015, so he was always available. Strasburg, however, only became expendable once Scherzer signed his deal.
There are very few teams who could build a package attractive enough to entice Washington to trade Strasburg. One of them is the Boston Red Sox, and there seems to be an ideal fit. The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders, but one of them can also play second base. He’s also young, cheap, and was a highly-touted prospect before debuting this summer. By this time, you’ve probably guessed that the player is Mookie Betts. The Nationals need a second baseman, and while they have Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa, Betts is probably a better player than either of them, and he’s younger and cheaper, too.
The Red Sox need a frontline starting pitcher. They’ve added several pitchers this off-season (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson), but none of them could fairly be described as an ace. Clay Buchholz certainly has the potential of being an ace, but he’s never pitched 200 innings, and has always dealt with a bunch of injuries. Combine that with the fact that he had the worst season of his career last season, posting a 5.34 ERA, and the Red Sox simply cannot bank on him being a reliable starter. Then there’s Joe Kelly, who might be better-suited to relief work. He’s also never thrown more than 200 innings. As a matter of fact, his career high is 124 frames (in 2013).
Strasburg threw 210 innings in 2014, striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings. He also had the lowest walk rate of his career, 1.8 walks per nine frames. It was, essentially, the best year of his career, and at the age of 26, he is entering his prime. The Red Sox are in win-now mode. They’ve also acquired Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, this offseason, to beef up the offense, essentially making it one of the best in baseball. The Red Sox have a glut of quality position players with Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Brock Holt–all of whom can claim that they deserve significant playing time. At this point, there’s not enough room for them on the Red Sox roster. The Nationals have a glut of quality starting pitchers with Strasburg, Zimmermann, Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark.
If the Red Sox traded Betts, they would still have a bunch of creative options for right field. They could try Victorino again and hope he stays healthy. In 2013, when Victorino was healthy, he was one of the best players on the Red Sox, with a 119 wRC+ and 5.6 fWAR. If that doesn’t work out, then the Red Sox could always have a platoon of Craig and Nava. Nava had a career year in 2013, with a 128 wRC+. He came back down to earth in 2014 with a 100 wRC+, but was still excellent against righties, even in a down year, posting a .372 OBP and 118 wRC+. If the Red Sox don’t let him hit against lefties, Nava should provide considerable value offensively. As for Craig, he had the worst year of his career last season, but he had a low BABIP and traditionally has been great against lefties in his career, with a 130 wRC+. Combining this platoon the Red Sox would probably have an above average offensive production out of RF. Even if they don’t, the rest of the lineup is plenty good enough to carry the load.
If the Nationals lose Strasburg, well, they have Scherzer, who has been one of the best pitchers in the game over the past 3 years. Plus, he will be going to the National League, which is an easier environment to pitch in than the American League, as there is no DH. They also have Zimmerman, Gonzalez, Fister and Roark who, all apart from Gonzalez, had an ERA under 3 — and it’s not like Gonzalez had a bad ERA at 3.57.
There probably would be a lot more moving parts in a deal of this magnitude and I’m still not 100% sure this deal would be beneficial for the Red Sox. Betts is only 22 and while almost every rookie last year struggled Betts had a 130 wRC+ in 213 AB. He also rated somewhat favorably when playing the outfield, with 3 DRS. The sample size is small for the outfield but Betts seemed to be able to handle his own out there and if he hits the way he did, he could prove to be a franchise player for many years to come. Betts also does not have a history of injury, while Strasburg had Tommy John in his rookie year, and another one could prove to be fatal to his career. Betts is also under team control for a much longer time, Strasburg has already hit his arbitration years; he is therefore more expensive than Betts, and is set to hit free agency in 2017.
The deal may and probably will never happen, but it is fun to fantasize about a deal of this magnitude and all the moving parts in it. If both teams were to execute it, the Nationals would inevitably retain their status as favorites to win the NL, and the Red Sox would become the favorites to win the AL. It would be a perfect blockbuster to end an offseason full of blockbuster trades.Next post: Owner of Mets Leads Team to Financial Trouble, Rewarded As New Head of Finance Committee
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