The Nationals have a lot of strengths, and they’ve never been hesitant about adding to their positions of strength — hey there, Max Scherzer — but it’s a little strange they’re reportedly among the teams inquiring about Miami Marlins outfield Marcell Ozuna.
Now, let’s get the obvious, which Jon Heyman touches on above, out of the way: The Marlins are a long ways away from relativity, especially after they dealt Giancarlo Stanton away. They are, in all likelihood, blowing the team up and headed for the full-on tank. It would be negligent for the Nationals to not inquire as to such a team’s best players.
However, as Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post notes, Washington isn’t exactly hurting for outfielders, even after the departure of starting left fielder Jayson Werth.
Assuming Adam Eaton comes back at full strength, the Nationals have a three-headed monster of Eaton, Bryce Harper and Michael A. Taylor in the outfield — three speedy players who are at least capable in the field and various levels above that at the plate.
That’s a strong trio, but their youth movement is nothing to scoff at, either.
The Nationals would love to find playing time for burgeoning young players such as Victor Robles, Brian Goodwin, Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista, and they’d love to do so without Harper, Eaton or Taylor being injured.
So back to Ozuna.
The 27-year-old righty had a huge season in 2017, making the All-Star Game while winning the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove after hitting .312 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs. In each of his previous three-plus seasons, he had never reached .270 or 25 home runs, but he appeared to put it all together last season and now looks like one of the bright young stars of the league.
It would make some sense if the Nationals wanted to sacrifice one or two of their bright young outfielders and go all-in on Ozuna — they’re in win-now mode and playing under the belief that Harper will walk after this season — as the thinking would be that he’d be more of an asset in 2018 than Stevenson or Goodwin would be.
However, it’s unclear how high the price would be.
It’s hard to picture the Nationals giving up Robles for Ozuna. The veteran outfielder has just two years of control left, and while he could emerge as a superstar, he could have also just had a fluke season. Robles, meanwhile, is the Nationals’ top prospect and the No. 3 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com.
But would they package Taylor, Stevenson and maybe catcher prospect Jackson Reetz for Ozuna? Possibly.
Ozuna is a better all-around player than Taylor is, and while Stevenson is a solid prospect, he’s lost among many other quality outfield prospects in Washington’s system.
Adding Ozuna would also give the Nationals a bit more freedom to move around. Assuming Taylor is part of the trade to acquire him — and there’s no guarantee he would be — Washington would have Harper for at least 2018 and Ozuna and Eaton through at least 2019. Robles and Juan Soto are top-end outfield prospects that would theoretically represent the next wave, and some combination of Goodwin, Stevenson and Bautista would have roles as bench players now and future contributors.
With how talented the Nationals are, there’s a distinct chance they’ll remain mostly quiet this offseason. But with how crucial this particular season is, there’s a much better chance they’ll make a big splash or two.
Flipping well-regarded prospects for a potential star such as Ozuna might just be the way to get Washington over the hump.