The Washington Nationals entered the season with sky-high expectations and why not? They had won four of the last six -- including the last two -- NL East titles. They were brimming with talent that could be expected to compete for a World Series title and had a shiny new manager in Dave Martinez.
Instead, there were plenty of speed bumps in the first half, both injury- and performance-related. Still, they are a contender and surely will do everything they can to continue to be one in Bryce Harper's walk year. Let's take a look at the road to the trade deadline.
The glaring need is catcher. The Nationals have gotten pathetic offensive production from behind the plate. Matt Wieters is hurt, but even when healthy he performs more like a backup these days. He hit .225/.288/.344 (63 OPS+) last season, for example.
Past catcher, the Nationals biggest needs are getting healthy and getting some struggling, established players on track. Having the healthy and/or best versions of Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Harper, Michael Taylor, Adam Eaton, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, etc ... really would be all the help the Nationals need after catcher. Even a few of those guys either staying on the field (in the cases of Eaton, Strasburg et al) or getting right (Harper, Murphy) would be like a big-ticket acquisition or two for the Nats.
Still, rotation and bullpen depth couldn't hurt. They won't go big (again, as they already added stud reliever Kelvin Herrera) again, so any move here is on the margins.
Best catcher targets
No need to expand on why he'd be the perfect fit here. He's one of the best catchers in baseball. The problem is, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo has publicly said he won't be asking the Marlins big asking price. Perhaps a smokescreen, but that's what's been said.
Blast from the past! Ramos departed the Nationals via free agency after an outstanding 2016 season that sadly ended before the playoffs due to a torn ACL. He's back at full strength and is having a great year for the Rays. It would be a fun story and excellent addition for the Nats in a reunion.
Pitching depth targets
The Mets and Harvey desperately needed a divorce and he was dealt to the Reds earlier this season. Since the deal, Harvey has actually been pitching pretty well and the Reds might be ready to flip the free-agent-to-be. He shouldn't be considered for a job toward the top of a contending rotation anymore, but the Nationals could conceivably look at a playoff rotation of Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Harvey.
Similar to Harvey without the NYC-related off-field baggage, Shields shouldn't be considered more than back-end depth, but he's having a decent season. In fact, after a bad start, he's really only had one or two bad outings -- depending upon where our goal posts are here -- since the middle of May.
The 30-year-old Gibson is having the best season of his career and is a free agent this coming offseason. It's a good time for the Twins to deal him and he could fit fine at the back of a playoff rotation.
The Reds closer is having another good season and through his career has shown the ability to be effective in multi-inning outings. On my own, I wouldn't have listed him as an option, but some reports have connected the Nationals to Iglesias with the idea that they might give him a shot in the rotation. He's 28 and under team control through 2021 and the Reds expect to compete as soon as next year. Color me dubious on the Nationals matching the hefty price tag here.
He spent the first seven years of his career with the Nationals, so why not a reunion? He's healthy now and has been pretty good for the Padres for the past year and a half.
OK, so Britton is a big name and we can't be sure meddling Orioles owner Peter Angelos would allow this (he probably wouldn't), but it's a fun idea to have two big-name lefties at back of the bullpen in Britton and Sean Doolittle.