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The 2021 Major League Baseball season rolls on just like any other, and with that comes the July 31 trade deadline.

Clubs use this as a chance to patch up any holes on their roster or to sell off pieces in order to better themselves for the future years. The Washington Nationals are in a position of limbo where they can either sell off assets in order to gain prospects or trade away assets in order to better their chances at contention.

For the Nationals, they currently sit two games over .500 at 40-38. This means they can go in any direction they desire. That being said, the team’s recent surge to second place in the National League East means that they will most likely attempt to take on assets this summer.

Team Strengths

The Nationals, like in many years, are very well rounded. They do not have an obscenely amazing rotation with a terrible lineup or vice versa. They have talent on the mound and at the plate.

The organization that won a World Series in 2019 did so in a similar manner to this year’s team. The 2019 Nats dug themselves out of an early 19-31 start to make the Wild Card game and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Nats boast a pretty strong starting rotation. Max Scherzer is silencing the doubters in his age-36 season. Patrick Corbin has turned his year around and has found some recent success. Stephen Strasburg is making his way back to the team after only pitching in a few games so far this season.

Even guys who are not household names like Joe Ross and Erick Fedde are really producing for the Nats and turning in quality starts during this recent run of victories. It seems pretty clear that when Strasburg comes back into the fold, they likely won’t need any more help in the rotation.

The lineup is, like the rotation, talented yet underwhelming. Trea Turner, who just recorded his third career cycle, looks like an All-Star and someone worthy of a Francisco Lindor-esque contract. Juan Soto has struggled, according to his other worldly standards, but has still been very good.

Guys like Starlin Castro and Josh Bell have recently gotten warmer at the plate. Then there is Kyle Schwarber. The Nationals signed him to a one-year deal worth $10 million contract for this season. He has been their best hitter.

In his last 19 games, he has hit 16 home runs. That’s pretty solid for a guy non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs last offseason. The Nats have shown recently that neither their lineup nor rotation needs that much of a reinforcement.

Team Weaknesses

For all the good things that the Nats’ bullpen has done this year, they have not helped out the club in certain situations. Yes, Brad Hand is towards the top of the league in terms of saves, but the road to Hand has been a rocky one.

Ever since Daniel Hudson went on the injured list, the bullpen has been less effective. To their credit, they were really pitching well as a group in April, but have since regressed.

The middle relief has simply not helped the team recently. Injuries surely do not help matters. Will Harris, whom the Nats signed prior to the 2020 season, has not played very much for the team. He looks to be done for the majority of the season if not all of it.

Kyle Finnegan is on the IL coming off a surprising rookie season in 2020 that saw him emerge as a reliable reliever. Simply put, the Nats need a little more help in the bullpen. Hudson’s age and injury history make the situation with him all the more concerning. If the team feels as if he will not be able to be a factor down the stretch, then they need to acquire a pitcher to shore up the back end of the bullpen.

Potential Trade Candidates

Ian Kennedy, RHP, Texas Rangers

Before the season, few would have guessed that Ian Kennedy would be one of the most coveted trade chips on the market. Kennedy has been the primary closer for the Rangers this season and has flashed some really good numbers. The 36-year-old has 13 saves so far with a 2.39 ERA. He could most definitely help the Nationals get to Hand by working in the seventh or eighth innings.

Richard Rodriguez, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

The 31-year-old Pittsburgh closer is almost a lock to be moved this summer. As one of the lone bright spots for the Pirates, it would be silly for them not to maximize the haul they could get for him. The Nats and Pirates have struck many deals, with the Josh Bell trade being the most recent example. Once again, expect a lot of competition for this player. Many contending teams need some bullpen help.

Daniel Bard, RHP, Colorado Rockies

Unlike many others on this list, Bard is not really seen as a coveted asset. The 36-year-old has a lot of injury concerns and his numbers are not great this season. In fact, the Rockies’ closer has pitched better at Coors field. His ERA of 8.00 on the road is among the worst for qualifying relievers. The Nats, however, could scoop him up for a cheap haul. Targeting Bard will keep Washington from sacrificing the entire future for one single player.

Mychal Givens, RHP, Colorado Rockies

Woah now, two Rockies pitchers?! What would general manager Mike Rizzo be thinking if he wanted these guys? It’s simple: the Rockies are not going to contend this year. Heck, they won’t contend for many years to come. They, like the Pirates, should sell off any piece that they can in order to replenish their farm system. The barren waste land for pitchers would be losing two and Rizzo could probably get both Bard and Givens in any deal. To make it even better, Givens has yet to allow any earned runs on the road in seven innings.

Overview

No matter what happens between now and the trade deadline, expect the Nationals to acquire someone to shore up the bullpen. They most likely will not be looking to part with any of their top prospects and will not be going for the huge splash of the day.

However, they can really help out their team if Rizzo pushes the right button. In the past, Rizzo has not been shy about acquiring relievers midseason in order to better his team.