Mortgaging the Future
As the trade deadline nears a phrase that may be bandied about is that if the Nats do make a significant trade they will be mortgaging their future in order to win now, but here is the thing. The future is now. The Washington Nationals are no longer at a stage where they are counting on the guys in the minors to come up and make an immediate impact on the major league roster. For the next few years the guys they do call up will be looked at to be roster filler, and if they are better than that then that is just a bonus.
The first and most important thing to consider when looking at the Washington Nationals is that the average age of the team in 2012 is 27.3 years old on the offensive side and 27 years old on the pitching side. Those rank second lowest and the lowest respectively. The Washington Nationals are one of the youngest teams in baseball, and that isn't all. Here is the list of free agents the Nats are losing after this season; Edwin Jackson, Chien-Ming Wang, Rick Ankiel, Chad Tracy, and Xavier Nady. Adam LaRoche also has a mutual option and could decide to take the $1 million buyout and test his luck on the free agent market.
Look at that list again and name the players that are a key part of the Nationals future. There isn't one. Edwin Jackson has been a nice surprise this season but he is the fourth starter. The top three starters, Strasburg, Gio, and Zimmermann are under team control through 2015 when Jordan Zimmermann becomes a free agent. On the offensive side Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond are all under team control for the same time period when after the 2015 season Ian Desmond becomes a free agent.
There is the option that the Nats may reach long term deals with both Desmond and Zimmermann. They are both having good seasons and should see a significant raise in pay entering their arbitration years but they both might be willing to take a long term contract that buys out the rest of their arb years and one or more free agent years to avoid the hassle of going to arbitration for the next four seasons.
The point of all this is that even if the Nationals go out and trade a costly package of Meyer, Goodwin*, Ray, and Perez for a pitcher like Zach Greinke that isn't going to be mortgaging the future. Perez is the closest of those guys to the majors and at this point Goodwin is the only one that looks like he could be a superstar. Ray is a lefty with plus stuff and Meyer is a big right hander that can be dominate at times but struggles with control. Perez has a ton of speed and is a well above average defender in centerfield, but there are a lot of guys that has been said about before who have made it to the majors and been nothing more than defensive replacements.
*Both Meyer and Goodwin would have to be PTBNL if traded this deadline.
All four of those guys look to have solid futures at the major leagues. Perez might be the least impressive of them and he has the floor of a solid defensive replacement which for a prospect is a good thing. Just getting to the majors is a victory. Think about those names and when they might arrive, and what their roll would be on the roster when they got here. Both Meyer and Goodwin appear to be three years away and if the Nats do sign Michael Bourn or another centerfielder this off-season then suddenly Goodwin has no spot to move into. Meyer looks to be either a top of the rotation starter are a back of the bullpen guy. The Nats top three will be together until at least through the 2015 season, and the back of the bullpen is much the same story with Tyler Clippard able to become a free agent after the 2015 season.
Ray and Perez don't have as much upside as Meyer and Goodwin, but they both appear to have solid major league futures ahead of them, but the Nats can find those types of guys on the open market to fill in the roster of home grown talent, and it won't be until at least after the 2015 season that the Nationals are going to have to start adding stars to the roster, and it is unknown what free agent signings or draft classes will arrive into the system before the 2015 season.
If the Nats do end up trading a package as nice as the one I mentioned or a different package with equally impressive prospects it won't change the future that much. The only way the Nats can mortgage the future at this point is to trade Strasburg and Harper, and it is doubtful that a team could even come up with a package to even tempt Mike Rizzo to pull the trigger on that.
The stars of the future for the Washington Nationals are at the major league level. Any move made now whether it is calling a player up, making a trade, or signing a free agent is only done to fill a hole in the roster. It isn't until after the 2015 season that the Nationals will start to lose players of significance. The Washington Nationals are built to win and to be winners for a while, but if they see an opportunity in any of these next four seasons to improve their chances at winning then they should take it, because the future is now, and worrying what happens after 2015 is an experiment in futility.