The Nationals offseason moves began in earnest on Wednesday when they acquired Josh Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The move marks the first major step to help the team rebound from a dismal 2020 season. They followed up on their 2019 World Series title by going 26-34 in 2020.
Nationals Offseason Moves: Moving Forward
Before the Bell deal, the Nationals offseason moves had been subtractions. They allowed right fielder Adam Eaton to leave town, as he signed a one-year deal with the White Sox. They also watched as centerfielder Michael Taylor signed a new deal with the Kansas City Royals.
In addition to these losses, 2019 World Series hero Howie Kendrick retired. While there have been minor transactions, the Bell deal is the first significant transaction this offseason. The Nationals will need to do much more if they are to be serious contenders anytime soon.
Nationals Offseason Move: A Look At Josh Bell
Josh Bell is a switch-hitting first baseman who had spent his entire career in Pittsburgh. He played five years with the Pirates and has had some success at different points in his career. However, he has yet to live up to expectations the Pirates once had.
Bell"s best season with the Pirates came in 2019, when he broke out with a batting average of .277, with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs. Bell also had 37 doubles, helping him achieve a career-best OPS of .936. It seemed as though he was on the cusp of greatness.
Then came 2020, when the bottom fell out for Bell. He hit career lows in every offensive category in the shortened season. Bell finished with an anemic OPS of .669. For a slugger who had a monster year in 2019, the falloff was dramatic.
Nationals Offseason Moves: Which Josh Bell?
An objective look at Josh Bell"s numbers in 2019 and 2020 would cause one to wonder just which Josh Bell the Nationals are getting. That is a reasonable question, considering the monumental drop-off. Are they getting the slugger from 2019 or the mediocre hitter from 2020?
That is a fair question, and obviously, the Nationals are betting on the 2019 version in making this trade. The 2020 season was surely unorthodox, and many players underperformed, so, this can still be one of those Nationals offseason moves that pay dividends.
Nationals Offseason Moves: Cost of the Trade
In exchange for Bell, the Nationals sent pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean to the Pirates. Crowe, 26, made his MLB debut in 2020 and was the Nationals" third-rated prospect. Yean, 19, is young and raw but may offer greater long-term potential.
In every trade, both teams have to give up something of value. Crowe may slot into the Pirates" 2021 rotation, while Yean may have an even higher ceiling. Obviously, the Nationals are looking to win now, and trading young arms is the cost of doing business.
Nationals Offseason Moves: What"s Next?
Josh Bell returning to his 2019 form would be a major boost for the Nationals. They need him to bounce back if they hope to move up the ladder in the NL East. Yet, questions remain for the Nationals as they ponder their next move.
Are there more moves on the horizon for the Nationals? Do they re-sign fan favorite Ryan Zimmerman for another year? Is there a Kris Bryant trade in the works? Will the Nationals make some moves to improve their bullpen?
Additional questions are out there. How will they replace two outfielders (Eaton and Taylor)? Who will fill out the rotation? How will the Nationals fill the closer role? Will Stephen Strasburg be healthy?
Nationals Offseason Moves: Final Thoughts
The answers to these questions will not come soon, however, how these questions are answered will help determine the fate of the 2021 Nationals. Much like Josh Bell, the question will come down to which Nationals team will show up in 2021? Fans are hoping to see the 2019 version, in both cases.
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