The Nats won last night as Scherzer was dominant and the Nats bats... well they did enough! Thus ends all four games of the "tough" part of the schedule from Mid-August to Mid-September. Now it's the Rockies and Phillies and Mets and Braves and Phillies and Mets and Braves and Marlins. This should be where the Nats officially start putting teams away one by one. The Braves should be any day now. Ideally the Mets will be eliminated in that second series and the Marlins in that last one, but we'll see.
Speaking of Maxs the Nats made a trade yesterday sending Max Schrock to the A's for Marc Rzepczynski. Who is "Scrabble" (the only time I'll use that nickname - though it isn't a bad one)? He's a 30 year old southpaw reliever whose job it is to get lefties out and pretty much nothing else. Now you may say "But Harper - he isn't getting lefites out this year!" and you'd be right. Lefties have a .755 OPS against him (while righties have a .674 one). But historically he's been death to lefties and a delicious feast for righties.
2015: RHB OPS : .972 LHB OPS : .661
2014: RHB OPS : .944 LHB OPS : .441
2013: RHB OPS : .859 LHB OPS : .480
If you believe this year's just been a fluke so far he's a LOOGY, plain and simple. And even if you worry about it not being a fluke - understand that the .755 OPS, somewhere between Chris Heisey and Jayson Werth is pretty much completely average and is mainly average driven. In 81 ABs he's given up only 5 XBH to lefties, only 1 home run. Plus he's struck out 23 lefties in 89 PAs. This pick up makes sense.
Now is Max Schrock too much to give up? Depends on who you ask. We went over this for the Melancon trade but if all you care about is potential future value nearly anything is too much to give up for a rental reliever. Relievers pitch such few innings that they are barely going to effect a team's season, especially not a team with as large a lead as the Nats. In the playoffs chance drives their impact and there's always the "couldn't have another pitcher gotten this out" hanging over them. Since outs happen far more often that hits, even in bad matchups, the answer is usually yes to that latter point. The impact a reliever can have over the alternative is just very limited.
But is all you care about potential future value? If you care about winning then it's usually fine to trade prospects for anything, even rental relievers. Most prospects amount to very little. This is especially true when considering the 10th best prospect, not for the sport or a league, but for a team. They don't make the majors or when they do their impact is limited. It may not feel like that's the case but it is. You can just look at the players the Nats have traded and hell, the ones they haven't, to see that. For every Turner there are a dozen Balesters, Coles, Milones, Norrises, Peacocks, Freitases, Meyers, Pineyros, Krols, Lombardozzis, Burnses, and Karnses. A mix of never-made-its, cups of coffee, barely role players, and maybe a good year or two. That's what you usually give up and what you usually get.
Then why do people care so much? The same reason they'd scream if you ripped up a lottery ticket. "But what if?" Schrock isn't a nothing prospect. He's 21 (although nearly an "old" 21*) and he's hit really well in advanced A-ball (.341) after hitting in low A and regular A. That's good. He doesn't have any power. He doesn't have any patience. He's not particularly known for his fielding. That's not so good. The minute he stops hitting for .300 or so, his usefulness ends. (For completeness he seems like an ok runner). He probably tops out, if he's lucky, as a useful bench piece for a couple years. A guy who can come up and put the ball in play for you. That's worth more than 40 games of a reliever yes, but it's also something you can get with a couple million dollars at any point.
In other words if Schrock develops into what most people think he will he'd be a good piece to have. But in no way should his presence make the difference between success and failure for a team. You can get what it is Max Schrock is expected to be for next to nothing as far as a baseball payroll goes. That's what the trade is. Something you could get for a couple million today (an effective LOOGY reliever) for something you can get for a couple million later (an ok bench player).
Does the variability in Schrock, the potential, matter? Yes, but only in bulk. If your team consistently makes these trades, empties out prospects 3-13 for a few years in a row, you'll likely find yourself with a dearth of bench prospects and probably will have "unlucked out" into trading someone who might have a 5-10 year decent career. Instead of a couple million, you may have cost the current team something more like 20 million. That can matter to a team** But the Nats don't do that. A trade or two every year should be fine.
It's nearly playoff time and the Nats need to optimize for that. They aren't going to spend a ton of money so they will tweak here and there. LOOGY is something that looked like it could be improved. Rizzo did it. What's left? I guess they could find a bench player you like better than Difo. But I'm not sure there is one. He's good enough defensively and a fast enough runner to fill those roles. You'd really have to bring in someone who is a special at either of those to matter. I suppose a truly great contact hitter might be worth grabbing. Really we're at the margins here.
*If you have forgotten or never knew I like to make distinctions between "young" and "old" ages. Since the age for a player in the great baseball-reference website is set of July 1st that year it gives you the impression that someone who turned 25 on June 29th was the same age as someone who turned 26 on July 2nd, when they were more accurately closer to a year apart. That's not a bug. The line has to be set somewhere. But in order to lessen that false impression I call players who have a birthday in the first half of the season (OD-July1st) "young" and those in the second half (July 1st -October whatever) "old" It's less important as you age, but it matters for minors IMO.
**Though as always - it shouldn't matter. Rich men's toys whose valuations grow rapidly should not have payroll issues. There is no money bucket. However, I understand it will matter.