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Washington Nationals targeting Shane Greene as trade deadline nears, per report

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The Nats are in on Greene, but they may lack the key piece to make a deal.

MLB Red Carpet Show, Presented by Chevrolet Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

With the July 31 deadline looming over the horizon less than two weeks away, things have remained surprisingly quiet on the trade front. The removal of the waiver period and deadline in August gave rise to expectations that contenders would get busy sooner so as to avoid a potential frenzy of activity in the final weeks. Thus far, there has been nothing of the sort. Instead, teams are biding their time and giving every impression of a judicious approach to making deals.

The dam is going to break soon though, and reports of veritable caravans of scouts traversing the country on the trail of the best trade chips have poured in on a daily basis. Detroit Tigers players like Matthew Boyd, Nicholas Castellanos, and Shane Greene have all been linked to various teams. Earlier this week, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was pretty direct about his interest in the Tigers’ closer in a recent interview on MLB Radio.

The need is great

The Nationals make for a textbook trade partner for the Tigers. With a high payroll and a stunning lack of postseason success, the Nats are in no position to play it safe. They have righted the ship after a disastrous May, and are 8-4 in July with the fourth-best overall record on the senior circuit, yet remain six-and-a-half games back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. While they retain a strong starting rotation and a good closer in Sean Doolittle, overall their bullpen has been a mess despite numerous efforts to bolster it.

Greene would give the Nationals a second closing option to Doolittle, and provide the ability to matchup against different lineups in the postseason by mixing the two as needed. In regular duty, Greene would presumably handle the eighth inning in tight hold situations, while perhaps spelling Doolittle occasionally to help keep him sharp for October. Because Greene comes with a full year of control through 2020, he is also more than a rental, which suits an organization that is both thin on prospects and constantly retooling in search of the postseason run Nationals’ fans have been expecting for nearly a decade.

Tony Wolfe wrote a fine piece for FanGraphs recently in which he investigated Greene’s success this season. Wolfe rightly identified a lack of hard contact and line drives, and a marked uptick in ground balls as the major pieces of Greene’s breakout. Mixing his two-seamer with higher cutter usage gives Greene two hard pitches from 88 to 94 miles per hour that feature great horizontal movement in opposite directions, making him a lot harder to sit on even in fastball counts. And, of course, he has the plus slider in his back pocket for whiffs or to steal strikes.

The Nationals don’t have much to offer in trade

The problem with the Nationals as a trade partner is that they don’t really have much in the way of good positional talent in the farm system. Top prospect Carter Kieboom would be great, but he’s a top 10 prospect in baseball by most opinions, and is presumably off limits even in a deal for Boyd. The Nationals have identified and developed several of the best young position players around, but they have used much of their positional depth in trades over the past few years, leaving them without the quality depth to outbid other teams for Greene’s services.

The obvious name, and really the only possible focus of a deal, is 19-year-old shortstop prospect Luis Garcia. As a headliner, Garcia might be enough to make a deal happen if the Nationals were willing to include an interesting secondary piece. The left-hand hitting Garcia is well-regarded for his advanced hit tool. However, FanGraphs and other prospect sites have doubts about his ability to stick at the shortstop position. He also needs to develop his discipline and pitch selection to maximize his modest power potential.

Garcia has a closed stance and a bit of a free-swinging approach. He’s solidly built at 6’0, 190 pounds and doesn’t look like a guy who is going to add much size from this point on. His approach in my few looks at him is very much in line with the Tigers’ preference for guys who are a bit jumpy at the plate but do look to use the whole field. He puts the ball on the ground more than you would like at this point, and fits a profile of the type of player the Tigers never seen to be able to develop as hitters.

However, Garcia is only 19, so there is plenty of time for refinement in those areas where he’s lacking. A move to second base isn’t problematic when one considers that the Tigers are badly lacking in quality middle infield prospects on either side of second base. The Nationals track record of finding fast-rising gems in the international free agent market can also be seen as a nod in Garcia’s favor.

In a market where it’s much harder to find a steal due to the proliferation of detailed information, taking a pre-breakout prospect like Garcia could prove shrewd for a front office that desperately needs impact bats who can play on the dirt. On the other hand, his lack of patience and consistent hard contact at the plate isn’t particularly appealing.

Unfortunately, the Nationals don’t have a whole lot else to really whet the appetite. The Tigers could ask for a hard-throwing, all stuff arm like Mason Denaburg, who has major command issues. Or they could choose a near major league ready back-end starter type such as Wil Crowe. The Tigers would have to identify a second piece they believe they can develop to really make such a deal a winner. Then again, if they love Garcia and can get him, then a deal can no doubt be arranged.

In the end, there are an awful lot of contenders interested in Greene, but because he isn’t a prototypical hard-throwing relief ace, there isn’t going to be a wild bidding war involved despite Greene’s ERA and save totals. He should hopefully draw a top 100 prospect, but one towards the back of whichever list you prefer is probably the most one can expect. Finding a team willing to give up the most attractive secondary piece may be the crux of the competition for Greene’s services. With one of the shallowest farm systems in baseball, that’s a competition the Nationals are unlikely to win.