The decade of the 2010s had a little bit of everything for the Washington Nationals. From rotting at the bottom of the National League East, to former number one overall draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper making their big-league debuts, to postseason heartbreak, the D.C. faithful experienced the ups and downs of a contending team. But it culminated in the sweetest way possible: a World Series title.
Washington’s 2019 World Series title was a product of player development and free agent damage, though some crafty trades throughout the 10-year run played a role, as well — some good, some bad.
Over the next several weeks Baseball Essential will be doing a series on the best and worst trade every team in Major League Baseball has made over the last decade. Here is the best and worst trade the Washington Nationals have made since 2010.
The Best Trade the Washington Nationals Have Made Since 2010: Washington Acquires Trea Turner and Joe Ross in a Three-Team Deal With the San Diego Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays for Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott; Souza and Ott Went to Tampa Bay (December 19, 2014)
The Nationals got involved in a trade they weren’t supposed to be the talking point of and ended up being the winner of the player swap: they got their franchise shortstop and a young starter for two players who had no future with the organization.
Sure, Turner’s career has been a bit of a rollercoaster from a production standpoint, but he has been one of the best shortstops in baseball since becoming the Nationals’ full-time shortstop in 2016; he has minimal holes in his games. Turner is a splendid fielder. He makes plays on his backhand with ease, fluently turns double plays, and makes throws from all over the infield.
Turner is a well-versed hitter. While mostly a line-drive, contact hitter, Turner has a lot of pop in his bat, as he has blasted 19 home runs in each of the last two seasons. Last season was perhaps his best season from a power standpoint, as he finished with a career-best average exit velocity (90.3 mph), hard-hit percentage (41.5 percent), and barrel percentage (6.8 percent).
The shortstop is one of the fastest players in the sport. He forces infielders to think fast, as he regularly comes close to beating out groundballs. Across the last four seasons Turner has stolen 157 bags. Meanwhile, Ross has made a difference in the Nationals starting rotation.
Injuries have hindered Ross’ career, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and has never made more than 19 starts in a single season. On the other hand, he has been an efficient force when starting on a consistent basis. While a pitch-to-contact pitcher, Ross showcased an ability to limit damage in 2015 and 2016, working out of trouble and recording ERAs of 3.64 and 3.43 ERA, respectively.
Souza ended up having a respectable three-year run in Tampa Bay but hasn’t played in the show since 2018 due to injury. Plus, the Nationals already had Harper, Jayson Werth, and Denard Span in their starting outfield with Victor Robles in the farm system; they were able to afford offloading an outfielder, and Ott hasn’t made it to the big leagues.
Turner has played a vital role in the Nationals offense and been a spectacle in the field. He started every game at shortstop for Washington in their storybook World Series run. His development alone makes this trade a steal. One could argue that the best is yet to come for the 26-year-old shortstop.
The Worst Trade the Washington Nationals Have Made Since 2010: Washington Acquires Mark Melancon From the Pittsburgh Pirates for Felipe Vazquez and Taylor Hearn (July 30, 2016)
A sturdy closer was the Nationals’ biggest need as the 2016 MLB trade deadline lurked. At the time, surrendering Vazquez and Smith for Melancon made sense. Three and a half years later the Pirates have easily won this trade.
Melancon was everything the Nationals could’ve asked for: money in the ninth inning. He made quick work of hitters, surrendered few baserunners, and rarely put games in harm’s way. Melancon recorded a 1.82 ERA and 0.81 WHIP across 30 regular season appearances for the Nationals, followed by 4.1 shutout innings in the team’s NL Division Series matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Nationals acquired the right-hander on an expiring contract. While trading for a midseason rental is always a risk, it was expected that the Nationals would retain Melancon in free agency. Well, they didn’t. While they made an effort to keep him, the Nationals ultimately lost the reliever to the San Francisco Giants, who gave him a four-year, $62 million deal.
To make matters worse, Vazquez has become one of the best closers in baseball. Across three full seasons with the Pirates (2017-19) the southpaw has recorded a 2.02 ERA, a 2.36 FIP, and a 1.02 WHIP while totaling 267 strikeouts across 205.1 innings. Vazquez is a tantalizing reliever. His fastball registers in the high 90s, and he gets considerable movement on his off-speed pitches.
Washington didn’t replace Melancon with a proven closer, rather relying on young relievers to pick up the slack such as Blake Treinen and Koda Glover; it didn’t work out, as they reverted to being one of the worst bullpens in the sport in 2017. Consequently, the Nationals yet again pursued trades for backend relievers, making a five-player trade with the Oakland Athletics for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, which sent Treinen, Jesus Luzardo, and Sheldon Neuse to Oakland.
While Doolittle has been a reliable force for the better part of his two and a half seasons with the Nationals and Madson gave them a couple months of reliability, what they surrendered for the pair of relievers panned out to be steep. Treinen put forth a remarkable 2018 season that earned him a spot on the American League All-Star Game roster; Luzardo became one of Oakland’s top prospects, and some feel he has ace-caliber potential.
Before trading him to Pittsburgh, there was some optimism that Vazquez could be the Nationals’ closer of future, but an iffy first half to 2016 and the glaring need for a lockdown closer superseded that hope for the organization. Had they not made the deal or simply acquired someone under team control past 2016, Vazquez could’ve come into his own in D.C., and the Nationals likely never trade Treinen and Luzardo a year later.
Stay tuned to Baseball Essential over the next few weeks for more on the best and worst trades made by all 30 MLB clubs over the past 10 years.