Two years ago, this trade would have been utterly laughable. At this time in 2019, the Washington Nationals had just won the World Series, and Victor Robles was heralded as a star in the making. However, things haven’t turned out well for Robles; he hit .220 during last year’s shortened season, then followed that up with a disastrous .203 showing in just over 100 games this season, before losing his starting spot in center field to Lane Thomas and being demoted to AAA.
The Nationals are in an incredibly strange position, where they have a perennial MVP candidate in Juan Soto, plus two very talented (and very highly paid) starting pitchers in Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but the rest of their roster doesn’t give them much hope to compete in the NL East. After trading away several good players once it was clear they wouldn’t be contending in 2021, it appears Washington is interested in pulling off an “accelerated rebuild”.
Trading Robles would likely disappoint some Nationals fans who still have hope for the 24-year-old, but Lane Thomas showed enough these last few months to prove that he deserves to be the starting centerfielder (over Robles) in Washington on Opening Day; Thomas hit .270 with 7 home runs, 27 RBIs and a stellar .364 OBP in 45 games with the Nationals after being traded from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline.
The Nationals shouldn’t be all-in on contending during the 2022 season, but they should be willing to take on players who can help them in 2022 and beyond. Yadiel Hernandez (Washington’s current starter in left field) brings a good veteran presence to the team, but he’s 34 and not a part of the team’s future; Fraley, at the ripe age of 26 and with four years of team control left on his contract, would fit the bill for what the Nationals need out of a left fielder moving forward.
As for the Mariners, they should make trades this offseason that correspond to helping the team win in the present moment, so taking on a struggling young player may not seem to make the most sense. However, Victor Robles’s defense in center field is outstanding, and Seattle doesn’t have a sure bet in Kyle Lewis or Jarred Kelenic to play center long-term; Lewis is banged up to the point of being considered a DH, and Kelenic projects more as a left fielder after a hot and cold performance in center this season cost the Mariners several runs down the stretch.
Robles’s offensive abilities may be currently limited, but his speed and decent career OBP (.317) could be an asset in the ninth spot of Seattle’s batting order next season. Also, with the Mariners’ pitching staff relying primarily on location-oriented pitchers who don’t have high strikeout numbers, elite fielding (such as what Robles could provide) will be imperative for the team.
Surround a player like Robles with exciting young talent in Seattle, such as Kelenic, Lewis, and Julio Rodriguez, and you may have a player who could benefit greatly from a change of scenery and less pressure on his shoulders to be a star.