The Washington Nationals currently sit atop the National League at 79-59 and in all likelihood will win their second NL East crown and make their second playoff appearance in the last three seasons.
After finishing a Major League best 98-64 in 2012, the Nationals came up short in the Division Series in dramatic fashion, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals after giving up 4 runs in the 9th inning of the decisive Game 5.
In 2013, the Nationals entered the season as one of the favorites to wih the pennant, but missed the playoffs despite an 86-76 record after digging themselves a hole in the first half with poor hitting and bullpen production.
After acquiring Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers in the offseason, the Nationals entered 2014 with one of the strongest starting rotations in baseball, and that rotation has carried them to their current record. As a staff, the Nationals pitchers lead the National League with an impressive 3.13 ERA.
Looking past the current season, the Nationals must make decisions on first baseman Adam LaRoche, who stands to make $12 million next season but for whom there is a $2 million mutual buyout option, center fielder Denard Span, for whom the club has a $9 million option next season, and the team's leading home run hitter, shortstop Ian Desmond, who will be a free agent next season.
Losing any or all of those three players' offensive production would certainly be a blow to the Nationals. As it happens, I have a potential solution.
The Nationals have one of MLB's most marketable, though sometimes outspoken, young stars in outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper, who is under team control until 2019 has shown flashes of greatness, hitting 20 or more homers in each of his first two seasons as a 19 and 20 year old, but he's also shown to be susceptible to injury, failing to play in 140 games in a season so far in his career.
While it would certainly be a blow to the Nationals fanbase to trade their young superstar, if any player could make it worth their while, it would be Giancarlo Stanton. A potential Nationals-Marlins interdivision trade would send Stanton, pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, and closer Steve Cishek to Washington in exchange for Harper, catcher Wilson Ramos, reliever Tyler Clippard, and outfield prospect (and Fort Lauderdale native) Michael Taylor.
The Marlins could play Harper and Marcell Ozuna in right and center field in any iteration they see fit as both have shown proficiency at both positions in their young careers. Clippard could likely slide either into the closer role for the Marlins or as the 8th inning man for A.J. Ramos or Bryan Morris. Ramos, when healthy, is an outstanding catcher, both defensively and offensively, and Taylor could serve either as a fourth outfielder for the Marlins or perhaps he could even compete at his natural position of shortstop.
As for the Nationals, they would potentially have a lineup of Span, Desmond, Jayson Werth, Stanton, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Jose Lobaton, LaRoche and the pitcher spot. Or they could buyout LaRoche's contract, and move Zimmerman to first base. In addition, Cishek would present a more inexpensive option at closer than incumbent Rafael Soriano, who is a free agent after this season.
The sticky part of this deal would, of course, be whether the Nationals are willing to give up Harper, who is under team control for the next four seasons and Ramos, who has a favorable contract until 2017. Also, as with any trade involving Stanton, the Nationals would need some assurance that Stanton will to be there long term, perhaps through a sign and trade.
What does everyone think? Do the Marlins want Harper? Do the Nationals want to give Harper and Ramos? Should the Marlins hold on to Stanton and try to make a run in the two years that he has left on his contract?