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What would a blockbuster Cardinals/Nationals trade look like?

The Nationals are missing two starters, and are still looking for a closer. The Cardinals might be able to help them out and get a nice return.

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

For a little over a month, I have been shouting into the void that the Nationals should trade for Trevor Rosenthal. Their bullpen struggles were well-publicized and they never really had a closer. Shortly thereafter all sorts of shenanigans happened and half their opening day roster is on the disabled list. (We St. Louis fans can relate.) The Cardinals have movable pieces to perfectly complement the Nationals’ pitching needs.

They only have enough system depth to go after one high-caliber player. They could get Sonny Gray or Zach Britton or Yu Darvish, etc. However, that would only fill one need and leave them vulnerable elsewhere once the postseason arrives. It will be difficult to fill all their needs without depleting the farm system

They might look to the Cardinals for help:

How can the Cardinals help and what can they expect to receive?

A Starter

Everything seems to be going right for the Nationals offense but wrong for their starting rotation. Joe Ross, their #5 starter, had Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg just landed on the 10-day DL with an elbow issue.

The Nationals hope Strasburg will be able to return quickly and be in good form when he does, but what is their contingency plan if he does not? They don’t have one. Right now, Edwin Jackson is their fifth starter. They had to call up a prospect, Erick Fedde, to make his debut because of Strasburg’s injury. They are sinking quickly into their own system and it’s a shallow pool.

We all knew if the Cardinals were going to be “sellers” at the deadline, Lance Lynn was their best rental trade chip. The Nats don’t need another permanent starter, they just need someone to get them through the postseason. I think Adam Wainwright describes Lynn best:

“Lance is a proven winner, a proven playoff competitor, and he’s proven he can hit lefthanded now. He’s proven a lot of stuff. Most of all, he’ll win.”

A fierce competitor like Lance Lynn would fit quite well onto a roster with Scherzer and Strasburg (or potentially without Strasburg). Which brings us to …

The Closer

After Trevor Rosenthal’s two-inning, six-batter 8th/9th appearance last night, it is hard to think he’s not exactly the closer the Nationals need. Much less one that ended his two innings at 101 MPH. My column at Beyond the Box Score focused primarily on Rosey’s postseason experience. That is where the Nationals’ focus should be, as they need to go all-in while their offense is this hot, Max Scherzer is this unbelievable, and Bryce Harper is still with the club. Their bullpen is better after the addition of Madson and Doolittle, but it’s still sketchy. Trevor Rosenthal’s 99 MPH fastball can essentially shut down the 9th inning and give the starters more breathing room.

The Lerner family, principal owners of the Washington Nationals, love Scott Boras clients because there is an added layer of assurance because of their relationship and past experience with him. Rosenthal being a Boras client is the cherry on top of the sundae that they’ll need to accept this deal.

In Return

That’s a lot to ask for. As a Cardinals fan, I don’t really want to see either of those guys leave. A high-caliber starter and a hard-throwing reliever? The Nationals only really get one shot at a bundle like this. The Cardinals have like half their Memphis roster in the big leagues right now, so adding more system depth for three months of Lance Lynn and a year of Trevor Rosenthal would make for a solid deal. The Nats have a few pieces I think the Cardinals would find interesting.

The first is a right fielder named Juan Soto. Of the three top prospects in the Nationals organization, Soto is the one they might be most willing to part with since their #1 prospect, Victor Robles is also an outfielder. This nineteen-year-old has a history of injuries, but is a power bat unlikely to reach the majors until at least 2021. That would be toward the end of both Stephen Piscotty and Dexter Fowlers’ contracts. He is ranked at #95 on Baseball America’s 2017 mid-season prospects list. This a good way to shore up outfield depth but without creating even more of a logjam.

“Soto [demonstrates] great hand-eye coordination in adjusting to the unexpected breaking pitch ... This should help to keep his strikeout totals relatively low while he maintains power. He squares up the ball easily, especially for a player of his age and experience ... On defense, Soto looks comfortable roaming the outfield. He is quick but not especially fast, typically taking consistent and efficient routes to fly balls. He has a solid arm ... He's got a calm sense about him and draws high marks for his personality and coachability ...”

Victor Robles is ranked higher by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, and he’s probably one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball. This might make it easier for the Nationals front office to part with Soto, though if they want to offer Robles, I’m sure the Cardinals would be interested. It also potentially makes Soto a better deal for the Cardinals because they have an established center fielder (Dexter Fowler) alongside an up-and-coming center fielders (Magneuris Sierra and perhaps Harrison Bader). This deal meets the needs of both organizations. The ranking of Robles and Soto varies depending on whom you ask. Based on need and value, I believe the Cardinals would do better with Soto.

Next up is one of my favourite names in baseball, Carter Kieboom. (Key-boom!) He’s a right-handed shortstop who was drafted 28th overall in 2016. With the emergence of Trea Turner, Kieboom’s kind of on the backburner right now. This is MLB Pipeline’s assessment:

Kieboom has a knack for barreling the baseball, a product of his plus bat speed, hand-eye coordination and mature approach … Kieboom's speed is only average but plays up thanks to his quick feet and excellent instincts. Those tools, along with his solid range and above-average arm strength, give him a chance to stick at shortstop, although some believe he'll eventually end up at third base.

Kieboom is a versatile choice and the third-ranked prospect in the Nationals organization.

Finally, they could include a lower-level prospect like Jose Marmolejos. I say “lower-level” because he is consistently ranked at #10 or below in their system as a first baseman and that’s not necessarily promising in his age-24 season. However, he is the Nats’ reigning minor league player of the year (for both 2015 and 2016) and Nationals director of player development, Mark Scialabba, raved about him in May:

“He’s a professional hitter. He’s very consistent from at-bat to at-bat. He has a repeatable swing. Short, compact. Can hit the ball to all fields. And does a nice job of staying poised in the box. He understands the strike zone.”

The Cardinals would get one corner outfield prospect, a shortstop prospect, and a first base prospect. Why would the Nationals go through with it? Because they need to win now and the only way to do that is to fill in the gaps. It’s a risk to the Cardinals because prospects don’t always pan out

It’s a testament to the Nationals’ offense that they have stayed afloat with half their lineup on the DL and the worst bullpen in the league, but that is not likely to get them to far in the playoffs. The Cardinals system has everything to gain from a deal like this one, and while the Nationals ownership might be loathe to commit, the Cardinals are the only team with both pitching pieces they need.

. . .

Audrey Stark is a contributor at Viva El Birdos. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.