Thursday morning news broke that the Washington Nationals have acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski and cash considerations from the Oakland Athletics for prospect Max Schrock. Recently the Nationals have placed Sammy Solis on the disabled list and seen Oliver Perez struggle, making the acquisition of an additional left-handed reliever vital. Rzepczynski should immediately step into a left-handed specialist role in Washington’s bullpen, and gives manager Dusty Baker another weapon in the 7th and 8th innings.
The 31-year-old Rzepczynski has been a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season for Oakland, providing the Athletics with a 3.00 ERA, 3.62 FIP and 1.722 WHIP, with 37 strikeouts against 24 walks over 56 appearances and 36 innings pitched. His 24 walks allowed are rather alarming, although 6 of the 24 were intentional walks, making the true number more palatable.
Traditionally a lefty specialist during his 8-year career, Rzepczynski has struggled this season against lefties, allowing a .296/.360/.395 batting line in 2016. In fact, he has been more successful against righties this season (.674 OPS vs .755 OPS) than lefties. However, for his career Rzepczynski has held left-handed batters to a miserly .225/.295/.302 line, with only 8 home runs allowed in 640 at-bats. In general, Rzepczynski is successful because he strikes out hitters as a healthy rate (9.5 K/9 in 2016, 8.6 career) and limits home runs allowed (0.3 HR/9 in 2016, 0.8 career). A free agent at season’s end, Rzepczynski is likely a pure rental for Washington.
To make this upgrade, the Nationals were forced to part with Max Schrock, their 13th round pick in the 2015 draft. Schrock was signed to an over-slot $400,000 bonus last summer and has proven the Nationals’ decision wise thus far, reaching High-A Potomac several weeks ago, and hitting .333/.378/.456 across two levels this season.
The nearly 22-year-old Schrock is a polarizing prospect, as few question his hitting ability but focus on his defensive limitations. Schrock has below-average speed and a fringe-average (or worse) arm, making him a poor fit in the infield. He has strong baseball instincts so he plays a quality left field, although his arm strength will never allow him to be more than average there. So Schrock’s detractors point to his defensive limitations and label him as a Quad-A player or bench player at best. Conversely, his supporters point to his “60” hit tool, extra base power and baseball IQ to make the case that he is a future major leaguer who will overachieve his physical ability. I tend to fall into the latter camp, as I think he is a big league player in a non-impact capacity, perhaps as soon as 2018.
My instant reaction to this trade is mixed, as I fully comprehend the position the Nationals are in needing bullpen help, and the limited players obtainable in August to improve their roster. Not to mention their successful record and the way reverse waivers work in baseball further limits those available. So considering those caveats, Washington did well to secure a lefty who immediately improves their bullpen. Rzepczynski gives the Nationals a second left-handed option and could easily surpass Perez as the top lefty down the stretch. The Nationals’ 25-man and 40-man roster is stronger now than it was prior to this deal, so in a vacuum that is a successful trade.
That said I still feel strong reservations about making this deal. Rzepczynski has struggled against lefties this season and does not feel like the dominant specialist the Nationals’ covet. So while the team is better, I wonder how much better they are. In addition, I am a big fan of Max Schrock and his potential to be a major league player. No question there are warts in his prospect profile, but his ability to barrel the baseball should allow him to reach the majors. A future big league player, even one lacking impact potential, is a significant price for five weeks plus playoffs of Rzepczynski.
While I certainly respect the team’s pressing need for bullpen help, I do not see Rzepczynski as enough of an upgrade to part with an intriguing bat like Schrock – Because of this, I would have passed on this proposal and sought another option.
NatsGM Grade -> D