On Monday the Washington Nationals gave the baseball world the clearest sign yet that they consider 2018 World Series-or-bust. In a move that strengthens an already excellent bullpen, the Nats acquired Kelvin Herrera from the Kansas City Royals for three prospects.
In the age of playoff bullpenning, having a strong back end of the bullpen is always a key factor. Not only do the Nats reinforce that area with this move, they also bring in a player with a lot of experience playing deep into October.
How good was this trade? Did Washington get what it needed at a good price? Let's look deeper to find out.
Who goes where?
Herrera has been one of the elite relievers in baseball for some time. He suffered a bit of a blip last season, recording a 4.25 ERA in his first year as a full-time closer, but has since buckled down again, pitching lights-out, posting a 1-1 mark with a 1.05 ERA and 14 saves—more than half of his total from last season. He's also slashed his walk rate, issuing only two free passes in 25.2 innings so far.
He's clearly still an elite reliever, and as such commanded a good price—in this case minor league infielder Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Blake Perkins, and right-handed pitcher Yohanse Morel.
Morel is an extreme project for the future. Only 17, he's yet to play in minor league ball stateside and has only had one start in the Dominican Summer League.
The other two parts of the deal were both fairly high-ranked prospects in the Nationals' system. Gutierrez is a third baseman that took a while to develop, but has been a consistent performer through all levels of the minor leagues and impressed Washington's front office enough that they added him to the 40-man roster this year to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He is an excellent hitter, and while he hasn't yet tapped into a vein of power, he still finds gaps. With six doubles and three triples on the year at Double-A Harrisburg, he figures to get a few more homers as he learns to barrel the ball up and gets stronger. The No. 10 prospect in the Nationals system, MLB Pipeline has placed him as the No. 8 in Kansas City.
Perkins was Washington's No. 11 prospect before the trade, and MLB Pipeline slots him in at No. 15 in KC. A second-round pick in the 2015 draft, Perkins is a speedster with the ability to play all three outfield spots. The Nats developed him into a switch-hitter upon drafting him, and he's a bit of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type at the plate. As a lefty, he has far much more power but also strikes out more, on his natural right side he makes better contact and hits to the gaps. Currently at High-A Potomac, he could turn into a leadoff-type hitter, and his defensive versatility makes him at the very least a good candidate to carve out a career as a fourth outfielder if his bat can't translate to higher levels.
Who came out best?
After last season's last-ditch attempt to make the playoffs with their old core, the Royals look like they are finally initiating a full tear-down. Herrera was one of their most marketable pieces, and they got a fair return for him with two good hitters who could, if they develop fully, could make for good pieces to begin another cycle of success.
The Nats, on the other hand, add Herrera to an excellent bullpen that already consists of dominant closer Sean Doolittle and other good contributors like Ryan Madson. Herrera also brings the intangible of deep playoff experience, something that will be incredibly valuable for a team like the Nationals, who for half a decade have been unable to get past the roadblock of Game 5 of the NLDS. Herrera went to two consecutive World Series with the Royals and won in 2015, and can help Madson, who won alongside him in Kansas City as well as in 2008 with the Philadelphia Phillies, impart to the rest of the bullpen what it takes to get to the promised land in October. With Bryce Harper's future uncertain as the offseason looms, this is a clear indication that the Nats are going to go for broke.