Nationals Listening To Offers On Kyle Finnegan

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With Juan Soto on the market, the Nationals will find themselves in plenty of headlines over the next two weeks. Soto is the crown jewel of this year’s potential trade candidates, and the Nats are also expected to part with impending free agent hitters Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz before the August 2 trade deadline.

While that trio (Soto in particular) will be the group that most intrigues fans of rival teams, they’re not the only trade candidates on the roster. The Nats are likely to be open to moving virtually any of their veteran role players, and Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports they’re prepared to field offers on reliever Kyle Finnegan. One of Washington’s higher-leverage arms, Finnegan should hold some appeal to bullpen-needy contenders.

Signed to a major league contract over the 2019-20 offseason after a lengthy stint in the A’s farm system, Finnegan has spent the past few years in the nation’s capital. The right-hander has posted an ERA below 4.00 in all three big league seasons, and he’s generally been a durable arm for manager Dave Martinez. Aside from a two-week injured list due to a minor hamstring strain last year, Finnegan has avoided the IL as a big leaguer.

As for his appeal to rival clubs, that’s rather straightforward. Finnegan throws in the mid-90s, and he’s averaging a career-best 96.6 MPH on his sinker this season. Throughout his time in the big leagues, he’s posted slightly above-average strikeout and ground-ball marks, and he’s missing bats at a personal-best rate in 2022. Finnegan has punched out 28.3% of batters faced this year, a solid uptick over the 23.7% career mark he carried into the season. He has generated swinging strikes on 13.1% of his offerings, a bit above the 11.7% league average for relievers. His 47.9% grounder rate is also a few points higher than the typical mark.

While Finnegan has flashed the swing-and-miss and grounder upside in prior years, he’d been plagued by control issues from 2020-21. Finnegan doled out free passes to around 12% of opponents in each of his first two seasons, but he’s shown much improved strike-throwing through this season’s first few months. The Texas State product owns an 8.6% walk rate, a hair below the league average. A spike in home runs has resulted in a career-worst 3.93 ERA across 36 2/3 innings, but Finnegan’s combination of arm strength and solid underlying numbers make him an intriguing target for contenders.

His value is also buoyed by his affordability. Finnegan is making barely more than the league minimum salary, having not yet qualified for arbitration. He’ll reach arbitration for the first time at the end of the year and remains controllable through 2025. That window means the Nationals aren’t going to be as motivated to deal him this summer as they’ll be for some of their rental players, but there’s also little reason for general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff not to discuss him with other teams. Finnegan’s late-blooming status means he’s soon to turn 31 years old. That the Nats are discussing Soto with other clubs suggests they’re open to a multi-year rebuild — and a Soto trade, if it happens, would formally signify they’re embarking on that course — and a good but not elite reliever isn’t going to be the kind of player the franchise prioritizes as a building block.

That would’ve also been true of fellow high-leverage arm Tanner Rainey, a hard-throwing righty who’s likewise arbitration-eligible through 2025. Rainey’s trade candidacy was dashed last week when he landed on the 60-day injured list with a UCL sprain in his throwing elbow. Dougherty writes that the Nationals had been preparing to shop Rainey this month, but he’s not expected to return this season and could require Tommy John surgery. That saps virtually all of his trade value, making Finnegan the undisputed top player in the Washington bullpen.

Presumably, the Nationals will also make their other late-game arms available. Víctor Arano has excellent strikeout and walk numbers but a 5.01 ERA. Steve Cishek, who’s playing this season on a $1.75MM salary, looks likely to move for a modest return. He’s missing bats, holding right-handed hitters to a .212/.307/.313 line, and will hit free agency at the end of the year. Carl Edwards Jr., who cracked the roster after signing a minor league deal, has a solid combination of strikeouts and grounders and could draw a bit of interest himself.

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