The St. Louis Cardinals are a team to be admired. I like them about as much as any other Nationals fan but as I’ve said many times before when it comes to staying at the top few teams do it as well as the Cardinals. The way they do it is an absurd awareness of when to trade a player, when to let them walk, and when to use a prospect or free agent to replace those wins on the roster.
When Albert Pujols walked away from the Cardinals they were losing a large chunk of wins but instead of having to get a new first baseman they let Allen Craig play the position and went out and paid Carlos Beltran to upgrade the outfield. Instead of trying to replace Albert Pujols they replaced his wins on the roster with a couple of players. The Cardinals did the same thing when they lost Carlos Beltran. They let internal options take over in the outfield and upgraded shortstop with the signing of Jhonny Peralta, and it again worked out for the Cardinals.
The Nationals stand to lose Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span, Tyler Clippard, and Doug Fister after the 2015 season. Even with the Nats minor league depth of AJ Cole, Lucas Giolito, Blake Treinen, and others replacing two starting pitchers from within is going to be difficult. Rumors of all those players being available have leaked and two trades that didn’t happen have also leaked. Reportedly the Nationals asked for Rougned Odor from the Rangers in exchange for either Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister and asked for Taijuan Walker and Brad Miller for Ian Desmond from the Mariners.
It’s a steep asking price given what players with one year left on their deals have been getting traded for but it’s what the Nationals should be asking for. If they are going to take a hit on the 2015 roster at either shortstop or in the rotation they have to be certain they’re improving somewhere else. Ian Desmond is one of the few shortstops in baseball who even owns a bat and Jordan Zimmermann was the best pitcher on the Nationals in 2014. Both will bring back a first round pick and $27.5 million in salary relief.
That might be the biggest part of what is being ignored about the possible loss of the upcoming free agents. The Nationals could get a draft pick for all five of their potential free agents with Tyler Clippard being the most unlikely but not unprecedented. Beyond that the Nationals are looking at a lot of salary relief. Over $50 million of salary coming off the payroll. Add in Nate McLouth’s $5 million and the Nationals could have $60 million to spend on the 2016 free agent class. That is a lot of money to have and it gives the Nationals not just the flexibility to sign a pitcher like David Price or Jeff Samardzija or a hitter like Chris Davis, Jason Heyward, or Justin Upton, but to also make a trade to take on a high priced player another team has soured on.
Even without trading any of the free agents to be the Nationals are set up well for the future. The extra draft picks and payroll flexibility should not be forgotten and it is why the Washington Nationals are asking for top 20 prospects in return for Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann, because the worst thing the Nationals can do is lose sight of the present for the future and trade Zimmermann or Desmond for the sake of trading them.