- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2021

As the clock ticks toward Friday’s MLB trade deadline, the path forward is increasingly clearer for the Washington Nationals. Built as a team that could challenge for another World Series title, the reality has been much different — and now the Nationals face the reality of selling off assets.

If that wasn’t clear a week ago, when general manager Mike Rizzo said Washington would take a dual approach to the trade deadline, ready for either buying or selling, the past few results for the Nationals have driven home the point.

Washington dropped all three games against the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, then gave up a crippling walk-off homer to lose Monday’s game. Entering Tuesday night’s action, the Nationals were 8.5 games back of the New York Mets in the National League East lead.

That leaves Rizzo with decisions to make, potentially offloading impending free agents this offseason to restock a farm system that was ranked last in baseball by MLB.com. Here are several players who could attract the most interest ahead of Friday’s deadline.

Max Scherzer

Over the last six-and-a-half seasons, Scherzer has been Washington’s workhorse starter, leading the starting rotation of a winning ballclub. Now, he’s leading the starting rotation of a team looking increasingly unlikely to make up ground, which could lead to a trade to a contender.

There are complicating factors for Scherzer, though. First, because he has played in the majors for 10 years and been with the same team for five, he has 10-5 rights, meaning he can veto any potential trade. Plus, he missed his last scheduled start with right triceps discomfort.

He seems to be on pace to make a scheduled start Thursday after that minor injury, but his next start might not be in a Nationals uniform. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported Scherzer would prefer to be traded to a team on the West Coast, with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres possible destinations.

And according to MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, Washington hopes to find a trade in the next 24 to 48 hours, allowing for the right-hander to analyze any deal before waiving his no-trade clause.

Scherzer has posted a 2.83 ERA with a 0.0886 WHIP, and the 37-year-old has recorded a 2.80 ERA across his six-plus seasons in D.C. He’d be a large boost for any contender.

Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison’s steady bat — and his ability to play all over the field defensively — will likely make him an intriguing option for many teams looking for a utility player down the stretch. The 34-year-old has played all three outfield spots, as well as second base and third base this season.

He’s doing that on top of a .282 batting average with a .764 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’s been on a hot streak, too, hitting .333 with 12 RBIs over his last 16 games.

Brad Hand

Around this time of year, late-inning relief pitchers are hot commodities. Usually, the Nationals are the contenders looking to bulk up their bullpen. But this season, a record well below .500 means Washington’s top-two late-inning arms could be up for sale.

Brad Hand, the Nationals’ closer, has 20 saves this season and a 3.67 ERA. But Hand has hit a rocky patch in his last two outings, giving up consecutive walk-offs to the Orioles and Phillies. Those results could cool his market somewhat, but the bulk of his work could still entice some teams.

Daniel Hudson

Where Hand has struggled of late in high-pressure situations, Daniel Hudson has excelled. The 34-year-old carries a 2.20 ERA with a 0.918 WHIP, and he’s struck out 48 batters in 32 2/3 innings — part of his 6.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s nearing the end of his deal with the Nationals, though, making him a prime candidate to become a bullpen-boosting rental elsewhere.

Plus, Hudson has experience deep in the postseason. He closed out Game 7 of the World Series in 2019, throwing his glove skyward before a celebration ensued. Some teams might envision him doing the same in 2021.

Kyle Schwarber

The Nationals took a chance on Kyle Schwarber this offseason, offering him a one-year deal with an option for a second season. He only hit .188 for the Chicago Cubs last season, but Washington thought he could return to his power-hitting ways in D.C.

They were right. Schwarber is hitting .253 with 25 homers this season, although he’s been injured since early July with a significant right hamstring strain. Still, Schwarber is working back from that injury, running in the outfield and taking batting practice this week, leaving teams to wonder when he might fully return.

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