The Washington Nationals may have finally decided that enough is enough for the 2018 season. Prior to the games Tuesday, Washington are 7.5 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves. In addition, they are also 6.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies, making their path to the division win even more difficult. The Nationals were not willing to blow it up at the trade deadline. At that point, they still harbored hopes of winning the division. However, as the season nears the end of August the Nationals may finally be realizing 2018 will not be their year.
On Tuesday, the Nationals decided to make two trades. They sent veteran second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and first baseman Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals. The bigger of the two pieces is Murphy, but the Adams deal is not insignificant either. Let’s take a look at both deals below.
Murphy’s move to the Cubs is interesting from both sides. By trading Murphy, the Nationals leave Wilmer Difo as their starting second baseman. Difo is a big downgrade on Murphy. So far in 2018, Murphy is hitting .300/.341/.442 with six home runs and a stolen base. By contrast, Difo is hitting .240/.299/.342 with three home runs and six stolen bases. Murphy hit in the middle of the lineup, Difo will likely hit near the bottom. This deal actively makes the Nationals weaker and the return, Andruw Monasterio, is hardly a top-end prospect.
For the Cubs, the Murphy deal makes sense short term. With Kris Bryant on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, the Cubs have been starting David Bote at third base. Bote has been solid so far, with a .290/.376/.462 line and three home runs and three stolen bases. However, Bote does not have a top end pedigree and the Cubs have made this move before his performance drops off. Murphy could play either third or second base, with Javier Baez covering the other. This move is further evidence that the Cubs remain all in on trying to add another World Series sooner rather than later.
Adams has slipped out of favor in Washington. Since August 4 Adams has started just five games and had become clear second fiddle to Ryan Zimmerman. Adams is a hitter who gets hot and that is what happened in the first half of the year. In that period, Adams hit .288/.365/.565 with 15 home runs. In the second half, he has been as cold as ice, hitting .155/.234/.328 with just three home runs. Zimmerman in contrast, is hot in the second half, hitting .309/.392/.632 with five home runs. The Nationals have lost depth with this deal but they have not got a huge amount weaker.
The Cardinals know exactly what they are getting with Adams, who spent six seasons with the team. The Cardinals have been making do in their infield. Jedd Gyorko and Patrick Wisdom were both seeing time at third base. Wisdom only has 14 plate appearances this season, so this move is not about his performance, more that they do not think he is ready. The deal is about getting Gyorko out of the lineup against right-handed pitchers. Against righties, he is hitting .233/.314/.371 with six home runs. In contrast, against left-handed pitching, he is hitting .312/.400/.558 with five home runs.
Acquiring Adams means that when facing right-handed pitching Adams can play first base with Matt Carpenter shifting to third. When they face left-handed pitching Carpenter can return to first with Gyorko at third. That should maximize the skills on the Cardinals roster and give them the best shot to challenge either for the division or the Wildcard.
The Final Word
The Cubs and Cardinals both made solid additions to fill needs on their roster but these deals are not about them. The Nationals are the headline here. They still have a superb roster of talented hitters but what they do next will be important. If they try and continue selling we know they are done. If so what does that mean for Bryce Harper this offseason? Will he stay with a team who gave up? Whatever the Nationals do next they are in a weird situation. If Harper leaves they are essentially starting from scratch. Yes, they have some talent but they will not have a roster built to win. Things are about to get very interesting in the capital.