The Washington Post

Soto trade or not, Nats will be busy at deadline

- BY JESSE DOUGHERTY

On Friday, Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Finnegan, Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. shared a clubhouse in Phoenix, beginning the second half of the season on the worst team in baseball. And in two weeks, in mostly a planned step of the Washington Nationals’ rebuild, they might be wearing different uniforms, shifting gears for a pennant race.

Moving Soto was not an original part of the blueprint. The Nationals are only fielding trade offers for their 23-year-old star — and they’re really fielding trade offers — after he turned down 15 years and $440 million, a contract offer his agent, Scott Boras, told the New York Post wasn’t “even in the range of considerat­ion.” But shipping out Bell, Cruz, Finnegan, Cishek, Edwards or anyone else attracting interest before the Aug. 2 trade deadline? Not contingent on record-breaking offers or the Nationals’ .330 winning percentage entering Friday night’s game against the Diamondbac­ks, which ended too late for this edition.

Consider it more a matter of course.

Setting Soto aside for a moment, not all of those players are the same shape of trade candidate. Bell, Cruz and Cishek are not signed past 2022, making it logical to recoup some value in minor leaguers. Bell, a 29-yearold first baseman, is the club’s most obvious trade chip not named Juan Soto. Cruz, a 42-year-old designated hitter, has struggled and is expected to fetch far less than he did last summer, when the Twins traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays in a deal that netted Joe Ryan, who was Minnesota’s Opening Day starter this year. Cishek, a 36-year-old reliever, is a dependable, durable arm who has had trouble finding the optimal movement for his slider in 2022. As with Cruz, any return for Cishek, if the Nationals can move him, is expected to be minimal.

From there, Finnegan and Edwards fit in the same category as relievers with team control remaining. Their value, though, does not line up so neatly. Edwards, a 30-year-old righty, signed a minor league deal over the winter and is under control through 2023. He could net a coin-flip prospect from a team

that likes his cutter and improved curve. But Finnegan, 30 and Washington’s best reliever, is under control for three more seasons after this one, perhaps making him the club’s most intriguing chess piece.

The Nationals will listen to offers for Finnegan, according to multiple people with knowledge of their plans, and they planned to do so with Tanner Rainey before his season ended with an elbow sprain. Rainey’s injury could require Tommy John surgery, keeping him out for at least 12 months. Finnegan, on the other hand, is ready to pitch high-leverage innings for a contender.

In 39 first-half appearance­s, Finnegan had the best strikeout and walk rates of his three-year career. His fastball is almost averaging 97 mph, another high mark. While Bell was almost an all-star — posting a .311 batting average, a .390 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage in 93 games before the break — he’s only a rental for August, September and maybe October. With Finnegan, Washington can dangle those months plus three additional seasons.

Maybe the Nationals will package him with a hitter to compound the return. Maybe they will find the right deal for Finnegan alone. Whatever the case, the team doesn’t have to trade Finnegan at the risk of losing him for nothing this offseason. That means it will have to be convinced by a great offer. It’s the ideal position to negotiate from.

Heading into the all-star break, the Nationals had lost 15 of 17 games. They were 31- 63, 271/ games in back of the first

2 place New York Mets, and prepping to gut their roster some more. Almost a year ago, when it seemed as if the first teardown was finished, when the clock struck 3 p.m. on deadline day, Washington slipped in a one-forone trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. This is important to remember as Aug. 2 nears.

The Nationals dealt lefty Jon Lester, who had a 5.02 ERA, for 25-year-old outfielder Lane Thomas. The lesson: This time of year can be hard to predict.

Roster moves

Shuffling their bullpen before Friday’s game, the Nationals recalled Hunter Harvey from Class AAA Rochester, reinstated Victor Arano from the injured list and put Tyler Clippard on the 15-day IL with a groin strain. Harvey, who was optioned right before the all-star break, could be promoted again quickly because he replaced the injured Clippard. Arano’s roster spot was open after the Nationals optioned fellow right-hander Cory Abbott on Sunday.

Clippard, 37, made one appearance with the Nationals, throwing two scoreless innings, before he felt pain while warming up July 16. Arano, 27 and sidelined since early June with left knee inflammati­on, rejoins the bullpen after making the team as a nonroster invitation to spring training. And Harvey, 27, will look to build on his solid outings following a long recovery from a right pronator strain.

Two additions

The Nationals added two players in minor league free agency: outfielder David Dahl and righthande­r Daniel Ponce de Leon. The club also announced a reunion with utility man Dee Strange- Gordon, who agreed to a minor league deal before the all-star break.

Dahl, 28 and a former top prospect for the Colorado Rockies, recently hit well for the Nashville Sounds, the Class AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. But seeking another opportunit­y in the majors, Dahl opted out of his contract. Between 2016 and 2019, he thrived for the Rockies while healthy. The problem, though, has been his ability to stay on the field. Despite Dahl’s rough 2020, which followed an all-star season in 2019, the Nationals were interested in him before he signed a one-year deal with Texas in 2021. He struggled with the Rangers and was designated for assignment midseason.

Ponce de Leon, 30, made 57 appearance­s in parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. This year, he had been with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle, opting out of his deal with the Mariners last week. He logged a high ERA (7.95), strikeout rate (10.1 per nine innings) and walk rate (5.3 per nine) in 711/ innings

3 over 16 starts with Class AAA Tacoma.

Dahl and Ponce de Leon will begin their Nationals tenures with Rochester.

On the dotted line

The Nationals signed firstround pick Elijah Green (outfielder, IMG Academy in Florida), second-round pick Jake Bennett (left-handed pitcher, Oklahoma), third-round pick Trey Lipscomb (third baseman, Tennessee), fourth-round pick Brenner Cox (outfielder, Rock Hill High in Texas), fifth-round pick Jared Mckenzie (outfielder, Baylor), sixth-round pick Nate Ochoa (shortstop, Notre Dame Catholic High in Ontario), eighth-round pick Chance Huff (right-handed pitcher, Georgia Tech), ninthround pick Maxwell Romero Jr. (catcher, Miami) and 10th-round pick Murphy Stehly (third baseman, Texas).

That leaves seventh-rounder Riley Cornelio (right-handed pitcher, TCU) as the only unsigned player among the Nationals’ top 10 picks. As of Friday night, Green’s signing bonus was not publicly known. The slot value for the No. 5 pick was $6,497,700. By signing Stehly for $10,000, per reports — well below the slot value of $154,800 — Washington saved money that it could spread to other selections.

 ?? JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? With Kyle Finnegan, the Nationals can dangle the rest of this season and three more.
JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST With Kyle Finnegan, the Nationals can dangle the rest of this season and three more.

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