Nationals are selling, so Braves should try buying outfielder Jesse Winker

He’s the best option among potential trade targets
Washington Nationals' Jesse Winker, right, celebrates his home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in Washington. New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez looks on at back left. The Nationals won 1-0. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Washington Nationals' Jesse Winker, right, celebrates his home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Thursday, July 4, 2024, in Washington. New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez looks on at back left. The Nationals won 1-0. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Braves outfielder Adam Duvall had more than one hit in only three of the first 49 games he started this season. He had a two three-hit games in six from Wednesday to Monday. The Braves signed Eddie Rosario off the street Friday. They put him in the big-league lineup three days later, and he immediately delivered a key hit to help them beat the Diamondbacks.

It’s now clear what Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos must do. Call the Diamondbacks and see what they want in trade for Joc Pederson. Offer to take Jorge Soler off the Giants’ hands. Get the 2021 outfield gang back together. Watch the World Series magic happen again.

I’m joking. Soler hasn’t played in the outfield for the Giants, and he’s not a short-term rental because he’s signed through 2026. Anthopoulos should inquire about Soler’s teammate, Pederson, even if it’s unlikely that he’s available. I’m sure he’s still got those lucky pearls stashed away somewhere.

The Braves are trying to fill two holes in the outfield. Ronald Acuña Jr. is out for the season, and Michael Harris II is on the injured list. The bar for replacements isn’t very high. An average, everyday player would be an upgrade. Acquiring a veteran outfielder with a contract that’s up after this year is preferable because the cost would be relatively cheaper and Acuña, Harris and Kelenic all are in the long-term plans.

With those criteria in mind, I searched through the list of outfielders who are playing for teams that are selling now or likely will be selling before the July 30 deadline. I came up with Jesse Winker (Nationals), Robbie Grossman (Rangers), Kevin Pillar (Angels) and Tommy Pham (White Sox).

Winker, 30, is the best option of the four. He’s produced an .818 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Nationals this season while starting 62 games in left field (all statistics before Tuesday’s games). Winker’s .382 on-base percentage is tied for 11th-best in MLB. That’s no outlier: Winker has a .371 career OBP largely thanks to his ability to draw walks.

The Braves wouldn’t get much power from Winker, but that’s not disqualifying. They could use a player who gets on base often to complement their collection of all-or-nothing mashers. The drawbacks for Winker are that he historically hasn’t hit much against lefties (he’s been better this year), and his defense is subpar.

Pham and Grossman also aren’t good in the field. But both players have produced above-average OBPs that are underpinned by good plate discipline. Pillar had an unremarkable stint with the Braves in 2023. The White Sox released Pillar in April. He’s been very good for the Angels (.850 OPS in 143 plate appearances), so maybe the Braves could get him on the upswing.

Winker, Pham, Grossman and Pillar all have something to offer the Braves. It’s plausible they could be better than the internal options. It’s risky to stick with the current outfield alignment. That’s why it’s not surprising that bolstering that group appears to be a priority for Anthopoulos before the trade deadline.

Duvall has been bad against right-handers. Rosario has compiled a minus-1.7 Wins Above Replacement since the start of the 2023 season. Harris’ power has gone missing. Jarred Kelenic is striking out a lot still, and his luck on balls in play is likely to run out at some point.

The Duvall/Rosario outfield platoon may not be good enough. Harris will have to rediscover his power once he returns from a Grade 2 hamstring strain suffered June 14. Kudos to Kelenic for getting on track, but the jury is still out on whether he’ll ever have enough plate discipline.

The good news for the Braves is all the teams that currently have suitable outfield candidates on their roster. That list includes the White Sox, Rockies, Marlins, Athletics and Angels. The Nationals reportedly just decided they will sell. Give it a couple of weeks and others will join in. Look for the Tigers, Blue Jays and Rangers to get in on the action.

I still believe a dependable starting pitcher should be the priority for Anthopoulos. The rotation has been the best facet of the team by far. But it’s July, and the Braves still are wearing out the pipeline from Triple-A Gwinnett to give the big-league pitchers extra rest. It adds to the feeling that their pitching could unravel at any moment.

The Braves seem content to stick with shortstop Orlando Arcia because they believe his defense makes up for his offense. Arcia’s .577 OPS ranks 32nd of the 34 shortstops with at least 100 plate appearances. Playing the field like Ozzie Smith won’t make up for that.

The Braves eventually might be on the lookout for infielders or starting pitchers. For now, they’ll search for outfielders. Winker, Pham, Grossman and Pillar are good candidates.

It’s unlikely that any of them would boost the Braves the way that Rosario, Duvall, Pederson and Soler did in 2021. But it’s doubtful that even those four players could do that again. That special Braves run can’t be duplicated.

Now, the Braves just need a better option than what they’ve got in the outfield. Winker is that guy, and they could do worse than Pham, Grossman or Pillar.