Why the Nationals Should Trade Dunn, Willingham and Capps

Steve O Speak

Part II: The Case for trading Josh Willingham and Matt Capps:

Josh Willingham: Willingham has been ultra productive in his time with the Nationals and has fully capitalized on the potential everyone saw in him in Florida. His durability, which had been an issue before, has not been a problem in a year and a half. And his defense which was shaky last season, has gone back to his career standard of being average. Willingham’s bat though is where much of his value lies and he has exceed expectations for the Nationals. Willingham is showing himself off as being a good 3rd power option on the Nats and could be a 5th-6th hitter on any team.

Willingham’s value is further increased by his contract status, as he is in his 5th year of service time, giving prospective buyers another year of team control with a price that should fall in the $6-9 million range (most likely in the mid –sevens). This makes him very affordable for a contender and gives them a good bat for two playoff runs.

Willingham isn’t an elite bat and not on the same level as Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder, but he makes a strong case for being the 3rd best bat on the trade market (Corey Hart is in the discussion but Willingham has been far more consistent). Willingham is both cheaper this year and under another year of team control compared to Jayson Werth. Wherever you rank them, Willingham is one of the best bats available on the trade market this season if the Nationals make him available.

Willingham’s trade value will likely be less than Dunn’s on the trade market, but it won’t be by much. His positional value, contract and team control make him marketable to a number of teams. Low and mid-market contenders will find Willingham’s contract very appealing and make it more likely for them to give up young prospects. Willingham should bring two quality prospects in return, with at least one of them a ‘top 100 guy’. Also I would imagine 1-2 additional filler pieces in the deal, either young guys with a little projection or a AAAA guy who could be a bench player for Washington.

Matt Capps: As for Matt Capps, I know it must be a little tough to trade your lone All-Star representative, but it needs to be done. Capps is having a great bounce back year for the Nationals and is in just his 2nd arbitration year, meaning teams will have another year of team control at a reduced price. Capps might not be a front line closer, but given his afford-ability he will appeal to most teams even as a set-up guy. Capps isn’t a dominate closer and will make things interesting from time to time, but he gets results.

Capps’ value is further increased given the lack of quality back-end guys on the market and the number of teams looking for relief help. Capps is by far the best 8th or 9th inning guy available (unless the Royals put Soria on the market) and given his extra year he should fetch a fairly decent price. As for suitors, I think just about every team would love to strengthen their bullpen, but the most likely candidates are the Reds, Phillies and Yankees, but the Angels, Red Sox, and Rockies all could be as well. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays get involved if they want a cost controlled option for next year (as well as a much deeper bullpen this year).

As for the price for closers it is pretty hard to peg since there never seems to be any consistency and there are times where teams grossly overpay (please). That being said, it is reasonable to expect the Nationals to receive a pretty good return, given the contract, the supply (or lack their of) and the demand. I would peg the minimal return at one good prospect, one solid guy and one lesser player, but with the possibility of more if some team gets desperate.

Now I know people will argue that the goal for the Nationals shouldn’t be to have the best farm system, and that the goal is to win Major League baseball games, but the fact of the matter is you aren’t doing that so maybe it is time to put your resources to better use. Over the years the Nationals have hesitated in trading Dimitri Young, Ronnie Belliard (when he had a little value), Christian Guzman, and Chad Cordero, and all they have to show for it is a bunch of last place finishes and a lot of wasted money. Dunn, Willingham, and Capps all have significantly more value and can bring back a much higher quality of prospect. And as for the argument that having the best farm system isn’t the goal I don’t know if I fully believe that.

With the exception of the Yankees of late pretty much every team has relied heavily on their farm system, either to produce their own starter or to trade for other major pieces. Free agency can supplement a team, but it won’t build you a winner. The Nationals have a solid base but they need more young talent, and this is by far the best and quickest way to do that. While I gave approximate trade value the Nationals can increase that by adding a middle reliever or bench player to the mix as well. Washington can also look to pay part of these players salaries, which would mitigate the financial relief but could be made up into talent.

If the Nationals play their cards right they could be contending by 2012 and the benefit of doing it this way is you have set yourself up for long term success. I don’t look at this as a fire sale (even though I believe the Nats should move some other pieces like Livan, Guzman etc.) because the Nationals don’t need to trade any of these guys. I look at it as a smart baseball move that can help turn the Nationals into a perennial contender. In fact I’m all for the Nationals being very aggressive this year in the free agent market and taking a run at some of the top guys. I have no problem them trying to pursue Dunn in the offseason, but for me he isn’t a guy you can’t live without.

Even if the Nationals miss on resigning Dunn, there are plenty of solid 1B options they can pursue for a year or two. Also they might get a 1B prospect in return for one of these deals which might eliminate the need of going after a big time 1B. As for the outfield the Nationals could at least kick the tires on going after Carl Crawford, but otherwise their are a few decent 2nd tier options available. As well as any young guys they get in return for their players. Capps though is the easiest to replace with Drew Storen waiting in the wings and Tyler Clippard there to help bridge the gap. These deals might not be fan favorites in Washington, but if executed properly they will make the Nationals relevant in the National League.

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