The Washington Nationals nearly acquired second baseman Brandon Phillips from the Cincinnati Reds, before the deal fell through at the end of the week when Phillips declined to waive his veteran 10-and-5 rights after the Reds were unable to work out fair compensation for him to do so, according to a report from ESPN's Jim Bowden.
As a Major Leaguer with ten years of service time, and five years with his current team, Phillips has the right to waive any trade. After taking a team-friendly deal to remain in Cincinnati in 2012, it appears as though he has done just that. Now, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Nats have moved on in their pursuit of a second baseman:
Sources: #Nationals moving on from Phillips, pursuing other options. Kendrick could be one; a trade could be another. Murphy low priority.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 19, 2015
As Rosenthal notes, free agent Howie Kendrick is a possibility for the Nationals, but the second part of that tweet — the idea of a trade — should interest Rockies fans. As Bryan Kilpatrick reported previously, the Nationals have checked in with the Colorado Rockies and general manager Jeff Bridich about the availability of Carlos Gonzalez. Now, the Rockies may have a second player that interests Washington: DJ LeMahieu.
The idea of a LeMahieu-Gonzalez package deal is something Matt Gross explored quite recently — though with the Pittsburgh Pirates the team in question, and not Washington. Nevertheless, the package looks remarkably similar if the Nationals have a need for both a power-hitting outfielder and a starting second baseman, as would seem to be the case based on their recent rumors and almost-trades.
The Nationals have one other thing that would make a deal with Colorado quite interesting: Lucas Giolito. A right-handed pitcher, Giolito, 21, is coming off a 2015 season split between High-A and Double-A, where he logged a 3.15 ERA in 21 games (19 starts), with 10.1 K/9 against just 2.8 BB/9 over 117 innings. He's universally considered one of the best prospects in all of baseball; after 2015, MLB Pipeline ranked him the third best prospect in the game.
Armed with a fastball that touches 100 mph and a power curve as his breaking pitch, Giolito — who should reach the Major Leagues by the end of 2016 — would be the crown jewel of any hypothetical trade that sends away LeMahieu and Gonzalez. Assuming a trade like this happens, though, the Rockies would have to receive something in addition to Giolito, too; Reynaldo Lopez, Erick Fedde, A.J. Cole and Austin Voth — all right-handed starters — are the other four pitchers in the Nationals' top ten prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
To me, at least, the parallels between a hypothetical trade involving Gonzalez and the actual trade involving Troy Tulowitzki stand out. In exchange for Tulo and two months of LaTroy Hawkins, the Rockies received one of the Blue Jays' best pitching prospects (Jeff Hoffman), a strong, close-to-the-Majors pitching prospect (Miguel Castro), and a second-level arm (Jesus Tinoco). Whereas the Blue Jays got more team control with Tulowitzki (through 2020), the Nats would only get two years of it with Gonzalez, but this would be remedied by the inclusion of LeMahieu.
A similar deal could theoretically be struck with Washington: LeMahieu and Gonzalez for Giolito, one of Lopez or Fedde, and one of Cole, Voth, Jefry Rodriguez, or Austen Williams (the Nats' 19th and 20th best prospects, respectively). Giolito isn't just the Nationals' best prospect, though; he's one of the top young players in baseball, and thus might only be dealt with one other prospect, as opposed to two. However at the same time, LeMahieu as a second trade chip is far more valuable than Hawkins; that might net Colorado more in return.
There's a wild card in this hypothetical deal, too: one position where the Rockies are light on talent in the high minors is first base. Washington's 11th-best prospect right now, Drew Ward, is a 21-year-old third baseman that scouts feel may move to first in the future; he played 111 games in High-A in the Nationals' organization in 2015. He alone probably isn't a first baseman of the future, but he represents an interesting minor leaguer upon which the Rockies could take a chance and build corner infield depth.
The hypothetical trade
If I'm the Rockies' general manger (scary thought!), here's a hypothetical trade that would package Gonzalez and LeMahieu for prospects:
NATIONALS RECEIVE (2): OF Carlos Gonzalez PLUS 2B DJ LeMahieu
ROCKIES RECEIVE (4): RHP Lucas Giolito PLUS TWO OF RHP Reynaldo Lopez or RHP Erick Fedde or RHP A.J. Cole or RHP Austin Voth PLUS 3B/1B Drew Ward
It's speculation, of course, and that deal isn't perfect, I'm sure. Any time you do a hypothetical trade like this, you run the risk of greatly overvaluing your own players, anyways. Overvalued or not, though, any deal that packages Gonzalez and LeMahieu ought to require a team to empty a significant chunk of its farm system. The Nationals seem to be a fit for two assets the Rockies would do well to move, while also having the prospect depth to make something like this a reality.