Nationals start the second half with a flurry of moves
Perhaps the all-star break necessitated this reminder: there’s still business aside if Juan Soto will be traded in the next two weeks. The show, as they say, must go on.
Ahead of a three-game series at Chase Field, the Nationals recalled Class AAA Rochester reliever Hunter Harvey, reinstated reliever Victor Arano from the injured list and put fellow reliever Tyler Clippard on the 15-day IL with a sprained groin. Harvey, an option just before the All-Star break, was able to get promoted again quickly as he replaced the injured Clippard. Arano’s spot on the roster was open after the Nationals opted for right-hander Cory Abbott on Sunday. Clippard, 37, made one appearance for the Nationals — pitching two scoreless innings — before feeling pain in the July 16 warmup.
Then, away from Phoenix, the Nationals added two veterans through minor league free agency: outfielder David Dahl and right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon. The club have also officially announced a meeting with serviceman Dee Strange-Gordon, who agreed to a minor league deal last weekend.
Trader Juan Soto might be smart. It could also be impossible.
Dahl, 28 and a former Colorado Rockies top prospect, had recently hit hard for the Nashville Sounds, the Class AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. But looking for another opportunity in the majors, Dahl pulled out of his contract this month. Between 2016 and 2019, he thrived for the Rockies while being healthy. The problem, however, has been his ability to stay on the pitch. After his tough 2020, which followed an all-star season in 2019, the Nationals were interested in Dahl before signing a one-year contract with Texas. He then struggled with Rangers and was slated for a mid-season assignment.
Ponce de Leon, 30, made 57 appearances in four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. This year he had been with the Los Angeles and Seattle Angels, opting out of his contract with the Mariners this month. He recorded a high ERA (7.95), strikeout rate (10.1 per nine innings) and walk rate (5.3 per nine) in 71⅓ innings with Class AAA Tacoma. His experience and versatility make him a decent fit as a depth arm. Ponce de Leon was a multiple innings starter and reliever and even pitched in high leverage spots for the Cardinals. His 16 appearances for the Rainiers were starts.
He and Dahl will begin their national terms with Rochester. Strange-Gordon was ramping up in West Palm Beach, Florida at the team’s spring training facility and will also join the Red Wings.
“[Dahl] was swinging the bat really well at Triple-A,” manager Dave Martinez said, nodding to Dahl’s .294 batting average, .357 on-base percentage and .468 slugging percentage with the Nashville Sounds. “We loved him in the past. The big thing with him is keeping him healthy. Hopefully he can go out there and swing the bat like he did in the beginning, and we’ll see what happens. You never have enough depth.
On Friday afternoon, the fruit at hand was to call Dahl the eventual replacement for Soto. Ponce de Leon, similarly, could replace anyone who replaces a reliever who ships out by the August 2 deadline. Whether you plan to sell or not, it doesn’t hurt to take risks in the retread market and inflate the system. The Nationals expect to need a few new players soon.
Still looking for a transcendent star, baseball already has one in Shohei Ohtani
What draft picks did the Nationals sign? First-round pick Elijah Green (outfielder, IMG Academy in Florida), second-round pick Jake Bennett (left-handed pitcher, Oklahoma), third-round pick Trey Lipscomb (third baseman, Tennessee), fourth-round pick Brenner Cox ( outfielder, Rock Hill High, Texas), fifth-round pick Jared McKenzie (outfielder, Baylor), sixth-round pick Nate Ochoa (shortstop, Notre Dame Catholic High, Ontario), eighth-round pick Chance Huff (right-handed pitcher, Georgia Tech), ninth-round pick Maxwell Romero Jr. (catcher, Miami) and 10th-round pick Murphy Stehly (third baseman, Texas).
That leaves seventh-round pick Riley Cornelio (right-handed pitcher, TCU) as the only unsigned player among the Nationals’ top 10 picks. On Friday night, Green’s signing bonus was not public knowledge. The slot value for pick #5 was $6,497,700. By signing Stehly for $10,000, compared — well below the $154,800 valuation — Washington saved money he could expand to other selections.
Who moved in the system? Second baseman Darren Baker, infielder Omar Meregildo and catcher Israel Pineda have been promoted to Class AA Harrisburg. First baseman Leandro Emiliani, infielder Junior Martina and right-hander Todd Peterson have been promoted to Wilmington’s top Class A. First baseman Will Frizzell, infielder Paul Witt, and right-hander Jose Atencio were promoted from the Florida Complex League to lower Class A Fredericksburg. And to make room for Pineda in Harrisburg, wide receiver Drew Millas was reinstated from the disabled list and sent to Wilmington.