WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are currently in first place, three games ahead of the Mets in the National League East, but the Nats won't necessarily sit still as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. Even if Washington continues to win consistently, it will look to get better by trying to acquire bullpen help. As one baseball source put it, "Bullpen help is the top priority before the Deadline."
This marks the second consecutive season the Nationals are looking for bullpen help before the Deadline, which is Aug. 1 this year instead of the customary July 31. In 2015, Washington acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies for Minor League right-hander Nick Pivetta.
The Nationals are not close to acquiring a reliever, but they are hoping Yankees relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are available before the Deadline. As of now, the Yankees are not in sell mode, but it's not hard to imagine they could part with one of the two pitchers if they are struggling in late July. Chapman in particular could be a candidate to move because he is eligible for free agency after this season.
Both Miller and Chapman are dominating left-handers. The Nationals are aware the Yankees would ask for a king's ransom for either pitcher. The Yankees would likely be looking to replenish their farm system.
Papelbon is still the Nationals' closer, but they feel they can do better, the source said. Papelbon has a respectable 2.91 ERA this season but his velocity and strikeout rate are down.
Chapman, who returned from a suspension in early May, continues to be dominant, averaging 14.46 strikeouts per nine innings for New York. Miller has a 0.87 ERA and averages 16.55 strikeouts per nine innings.
It is unclear whether the Nationals would hold on to Papelbon if they were to acquire another late-inning reliever. If the Nationals were to attempt to trade Papelbon, it could be hard to make a move. He has a limited no-trade clause and is making $11 million in 2016. According to ESPN.com, the teams that Papelbon can be traded to without his permission are the Red Sox, Cubs, Indians, Tigers, Angels, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Rays, Cardinals, Padres and Giants.
Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.