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Nationals Acquire Jonny Gomes

The opening salvo of the last week of trading season has been fired… and by the Washington Nationals, who sit 15 games back of the Phillies for the NL East race and nine games back of the Braves for the NL Wild Card. The Nationals pulled the trigger on a deal with the Cincinnati Reds acquiring left fielder Jonny Gomes for minor league pitcher Chris Manno and outfielder Bill Rhinehart.

Wait, what?

The impetus of this deal for the Reds is simple. Chris Heisey has been an above average hitter and has earned time in the left field hole for Cincinnati. With Gomes’s usefulness limited to his performance against left-handed pitching, Heisey has made him redundant. The movement of Gomes makes room for Yonder Alonso to come up and add another left-handed bat to the outfield mix and to the bench.

The thought process for the Nationals, however, is not so clear. The reward for the Nationals appears to be a right-handed platoon partner for Laynce Nix. Gomes does crush left-handers to the tune of a .382 wOBA for his career and a whopping .426 wOBA so far this season. He’s effectively worthless against righties — a .319 wOBA career and .296 this year — and in the field, where he carries a -38 career UZR in about four seasons’ worth of plate appearances in the corner outfield positions.

The Nationals must be banking on Gomes’s projected Type B free agent status, as the 30-year-old will hit the free agent market at the conclusion of the season. With Gomes making $1.75M plus performance bonuses this season, the highest he’s ever made, one has to wonder if he would be willing to eschew the guarantees of arbitration and hit the open market instead. An arbitration award would likely pay around $2.5 million, and at this point in his career there’s no reason for Gomes to assume he can pick up a multi-year deal.

For the rights to a half-year rental platoon player who may or may not bring in a draft pick via the compensation system, the Nationals gave up two minor leaguers with potential. Rhinehart has a .280/.375/.579 line in Double-A this year, but at age 26 will need to prove it in Triple-A before he is taken seriously as a prospect. Manno has been fantastic in his first 61 professional innings, posting an FIP under 2.00 and striking out a whopping 91 batters, although like Rhinehart, at age 22 he’s been a bit old for rookie ball in 2010 and Single-A this season.

Still, it’s very difficult to truly justify this move for Washington. Is a chance at a pick in the 40-60 range, maybe lower, worth the rights to the promise, however slim it may be, of these two prospects? Apparently, Mike Rizzo and the Nationals think so, because what little production Gomes offers in the 2011 season hardly presents any value to the club. Regardless, it’s a curious deal at best for the Nationals, and the Reds unload a redundant piece, free up a roster spot, and pick up a couple of potential major leaguers in the process.