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Rush to Judgment: Grading the Nats' Trade Acquisitions

Image: MLB Pipeline

The 2021 Washington Nationals' season is over. It was not a good one. As we all know, the team tried to compete this year, but came up woefully short and turned into the biggest Trade Deadline seller in the sport. The Nats acquired 12 players in a dizzying 24-hour period in late July. General manager Mike Rizzo says the players added in those deals will be staples of the franchise's next World Series team. So, with the season in the books, let's evaluate how the new guys did in their first semester.

We'll grade the trades in chronological order.

Nats acquire C Riley Adams in exchange for LHP Brad Hand

Adams was fantastic for the Nats, slashing .268/.422/.465 in 35 games. He only hit two home runs, but he showed great strike-zone judgment and provided consistently competitive at-bats. The power should come. He looks like a solid backup catcher with power behind Keibert Ruiz going forward, and he could even move to first base. With improved depth at catcher, the Nats could also use Adams as a trade chip to flip and improve another area of need.

Grade: A

Nats acquire C Keibert Ruiz, RHP Josiah Gray, RHP Gerardo Carrillo and OF Donovan Casey in exchange for RHP Max Scherzer and SS Trea Turner

This was obviously the headline-grabbing move of the Trade Deadline. We'll grade each player individually and then the trade as a whole.

Ruiz: One of the best prospects in all of baseball when acquired, Ruiz got off to a slow start at Triple-A Rochester, then got red hot and earned a promotion to D.C. for the season's final month. After a very slow start there, Ruiz ended on a high note, finishing with a .284/.348/.395 line with the Nats. The power wasn't there, but his Minor League homer numbers are probably not indicative of the player he is. But he was a contact machine in an era in which that is a scarce commodity. He's solid behind the plate and will be the Nats' starting catcher for the next several years.

Grade: B+

Gray: Gray had recently made his MLB debut with the Dodgers prior to the trade and was generally considered a top-50 overall prospect in baseball. He went straight to the big leagues after the deal and it was a tale of three seasons for him. He began his Nats career with five solid starts, then had three disastrous starts before finding his form again to finish with a flourish. He'll be in the middle of their rotation for years.

Grade: B

Carrillo: Carrillo came over with a decent amount of hype. The Dodgers liked him enough to add him to their 40-man roster before the season. He was touted as having an electric fastball and a good four-pitch mix. He didn't perform nearly as well in the Nats' system as he did with the Dodgers. He walked 21 batters in only 37 innings at Double-A Harrisburg and his strikeout numbers weren't good enough to overcome that. He posted a 5.59 ERA and 1.45 WHIP after the trade. He's my No. 5 prospect in the system right now, but that's based on upside and little competition in a weak system. He needs to improve next season. I think he's a reliever in the end.

Grade: D+

Casey: If I wrote this a month ago, Casey would probably get an A. Casey has four legit Major League tools and is more than a throw-in. He has elite defensive tools and a powerful swing. Casey displayed all of that over 12 games at Harrisburg, earning a quick promotion to Rochester. Casey got off to a good start there, as well, but really limped to the finish line with a microscopic .383 OPS in September. There's still a Major League outfielder in there and I'd take him over Andrew Stevenson.

Grade: C

Overall: The Nats did decently here. They got their starting catcher for the next 6-7 years, plus a plug-and-play starting pitcher with upside to improve. Carrillo and Casey are wild cards. The Nats received instant criticism from some that they didn't get enough in return for Scherzer and Turner. I don't think that's unfair, but time will tell.

Grade: C+

Nats acquire RHP Mason Thompson and INF Jordy Barley for RHP Daniel Hudson

Thompson: Thompson was the primary piece in this trade and immediately was a top-15 prospect in the Nats' system. He was in the Majors soon after the deal and really struggled. He has a promising turbo sinker, but he didn't get any results. His numbers were bad across the board and he couldn't throw strikes. There's still plenty of reason for optimism that he could be a good late-inning reliever, but there's work to be done. The Nats have an abysmal record of maximizing pitchers like this.

Grade: D

Barley: I am not as high on Barley as some other outlets. He didn't perform for the FredNats after a monster first game in his new organization. He's a speed-only guy to me. He isn't good enough to hit his way to the Majors and he's a wreck defensively at shortstop. He's a speed specialist only, in my opinion.

Grade: D

Overall: While I still think Thompson could be a significant bullpen piece down the road, I don't think Rizzo did a good job here. Hudson was bad for the Padres, but at the time of this move, he was the second-best reliever on the trade market behind Kimbrel and I think they could have gotten more for that. Maybe Hudson being on the COVID IL hurt Rizzo's ability to get more.

Grade: D

Nats acquire RHP Aldo Ramirez for OF Kyle Schwarber

This is an impossible trade to evaluate as the Nats traded an injured player for an injured prospect. Ramirez was ascendant in the Red Sox's system and this could really pay off down the road. Ramirez returned from the IL to make four appearances for the FCL Nats. He started with three good, but brief appearances, then got lit up in his final appearance and didn't pitch again.

Grade: I

Nats acquire C Drew Millas, RHP Richard Guasch and RHP Seth Shuman in exchange for C Yan Gomes and UTIL Josh Harrison

Millas: Millas, my No. 16 prospect, boasts a solid backup catcher profile. He has excellent defensive tools and has a god feel at the plate, which resulted in a .284 average and .373 on-base percentage at High-A Wilmington after the deal. However, he has no power, so it puts a lot of pressure on his ability to keep getting on base as he moves up the chain.

Grade: B+

Guasch: The No. 25 prospect in the system, Guasch is stuff over production and profiles as a reliever moving forward. He rarely gets hit hard and he has swing-and-miss stuff. Considering he'll be 24 in April, he could move up a lot faster if the Nats move him to Double-A and stick him in the bullpen.

Grade: C+

Shuman: Stop me if you've heard this one before: A pitcher the Nats acquired was much worse in their organization than he was with the Nats. Almost like there's a theme developing. Shuman was excellent for Oakland's High-A affiliate before the trade and was lousy for Wilmington, posting a 6.03 ERA and 1.51 WHIP.

Grade: D

Overall: Rizzo did fine here in exchange for two pending free agents. There is a path for all three of these players to the Majors; Millas as a backup catcher, Guasch as a reliever and Shuman as a back-end starter or long relief type.

Grade: C+

Nats acquire OF Lane Thomas for LHP Jon Lester

I'll spare us all the time. It's an A+.

Grade: A+

Overall Assessment: Outside of Scherzer and Turner, the Nats didn't have any super-exciting trade pieces to dangle. But Rizzo was able to offload everyone with any trade value except for Josh Bell. It will take years before we truly know how Rizzo did here. Early on, it feels like maybe he could have gotten more for Scherzer and Turner, and didn't get enough for Hudson. However, Riley Adams and Lane Thomas seem like absolute thefts, and Aldo Ramirez is an interesting one to watch going forward.

Overall Grade: B-

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