Jul 31, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
In five years now as general manager of the Nationals, Mike Rizzo has approached all trade discussions with an underlying philosophy: Any move made must be in this team’s best interests not only in the short-term but especially in the long-term.
That philosophy has served the Nationals well, allowing them to slowly assemble a roster and an organization built to sustain success well beyond the immediate future. But does there come a point when long-term ramifications have to take a back seat to short-term opportunities?
That’s among the questions Rizzo is facing today as the 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline approaches. The Nationals, though assembled well enough to lead the NL East two-thirds of the way into the season, do have a few obvious areas of need, areas that if bolstered would put this franchise in better position to win the World Series this October.
The biggest needs: 1) A second or third baseman who can provide more of an offensive threat than Danny Espinosa while Ryan Zimmerman recovers from a hamstring injury that more and more looks like it will keep the Face of the Franchise sidelined well into September, and 2) Another quality reliever who could take over some key innings from a talented-but-overworked bullpen down the stretch.
Either would help a Nationals club that looked a bit worn down over the last week, but either also could come at a price in the form of prospects traded away or salary taken on for not only the rest of this season but for future seasons.
Among the infielders whose names have been brought up: the Diamondbacks’ Martin Prado (owed about $25 million through 2016) and Aaron Hill (owed about $27 million through 2016), plus the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre (owed about $24 million through 2015, though Texas’ desire to trade him seems minimal).
There are lesser, more affordable names out there — Asdrubal Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio — but whether those options would be better than what the Nationals already have is up for debate.
Manager Matt Williams made his case for sticking with what has gotten his team to this point, noting Espinosa has played the bulk of the season for a first-place club. (The Nats’ record when Espinosa starts is 39-33. It’s 19-14 when he doesn’t.)
“We are where we’re at, and we’ve got a chance,” Williams said. “He’s helped us have that chance. Whether it’s Danny, [Kevin Frandsen] or [Zach Walters], or a combination of all three … That’s part of the process you have to go through. If [no trade] happens, that’s the way we’ve played the majority of the season anyway. So everybody would be comfortable with it. We still have to do things right and wins games.”
The bullpen question may not be as complicated. Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard all have been given days off in the last week due to overuse, including Soriano getting two consecutive days off in the wake of his blown save Monday night. Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins, meanwhile, have fallen into ruts, leaving Williams shorthanded in several big spots during the just-completed road trip.
Another quality reliever, whether right-handed or left-handed, would take some of the pressure off those guys. It also would allow the Nationals to send Barrett (who has never thrown this much in his career) to Class AAA Syracuse for a month to work on some things and then return once rosters expand in September.
Again, though, what price is Rizzo willing to pay for such an acquisition? Would he give up one of his top 10 prospects for a 2-month bullpen rental?
“We’ve just got to wait and see what happens,” Williams said. “There are some guys that are out there, there are some guys we’ve taken a hard look at. We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we don’t have anything concrete.”
The Nationals have until 4 p.m. EDT to make a move, though recent history has shown Rizzo doesn’t exactly treat this as a hard deadline. He has made waiver-trade deals each of the last two Augusts, acquiring Kurt Suzuki in 2012 and David DeJesus in 2013. Perhaps a more-palatable offer will come his way once the frenzy of July 31 recedes.
“There’s nothing that we’ve decided on yet,” Williams said. “Things could change drastically over the next 24 hours. I’ve been talking to him every day, and he’s been extremely busy and speaking with a number of people around the league about potentials. We’ll see what happens. It always comes down to the 11th hour anyway. All of those frying pans are going right now, and we’ll see if we can come up with anything.”
Ultimately, the question facing Rizzo is the same one he has faced before: Does the short-term opportunity to win supersede the long-term attempt to field a contender?
For the first time in his 5-year tenure, Rizzo might feel compelled to say yes.
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