Should the Nats Make a Splash at the Deadline

 

I was thinking yesterday about the teams that acquire the biggest target at the deadline. For the past few seasons none of them have won the World Series and in fact I think we have to go all the way back to the 2000 Yankees and David Justice to find a team that added a major piece and won it all. The reason for this is twofold. The teams acquiring the biggest pieces are often flawed teams with little chance to make the World Series to begin with like the 2012 Angels, the 2011 Giants, and the 2008 Brewers. Of those three teams the Brewers went the furthest with CC Sabathia but lost the division series three games to one to the eventual World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies whose big deadline acquisition was Joe Blanton.  

The Brewers, Giants, and Angels in those seasons were all flawed teams and not true World Series contenders. The second part of why teams have acquired the biggest piece at the deadline and lost is random variance. Winning the World Series is difficult. I am writing this right now and the 2010 Texas Rangers and Cliff Lee are in the same category of not having won the World Series as the 2012 Angels and Zack Greinke, but they made it to the World Series whereas the 2012 Angels finished third in a four team division. None of that had anything to do with Cliff Lee. The Texas Rangers were a great team that season before they acquired Lee and they were a better team afterwards. They could have won the World Series with or without Lee, but they didn't.  

As of right now some of those trades look bad and others not so bad. It all depends on how the prospects turned out. Jean Segura and Zach Wheeler look like steals for the Brewers and Mets, while Justin Smoak has done close to nothing for the Seattle Mariners and Matt LaPorta has faded into nonexistence for the Indians. The truth may be that these acquisitions don't say much about the acquisitions themselves, but more about the teams they went to. The 2009 Phillies and the 2010 Rangers both acquired Cliff Lee at the deadline and both lost the World Series, but both of those teams were good enough to get to the World Series without Lee.  

What the final point of all this may be is that GMs have to know the talent on their own team. They have to be able to analyze and figure out if their team is in a position to make a run without the trade target and if the answer is yes then they should get him to increase the chances of winning once they are there. It is good to make a trade and then have a chance to win a World Series. It is a completely different thing to make a trade and miss the playoffs entirely, and of the teams we're talking about the ones that gave up the best prospects are the ones that missed the playoffs. In other words teams trading just to make the playoffs will give up more than teams making a trade to win the World Series. The Phillies and Rangers were going to make the playoffs without Lee, but there is a chance that at least the Rangers don't make it past the Yankees without Cliff Lee. In case you forgot the 2010 playoffs Cliff Lee pitched a total of 24 innings and allowed two runs in Texas' march to the AL title.   

When looking at the teams that have won recent World Series it is often a lot of small moves that have helped them. The 2010 Giants added Cody Ross, the 2011 Cardinals added Mark Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, and Corey Patterson in a move that sent malcontent Colby Rasmus out of town, and the 2012 Giants added Hunter Pence. None of these moves were big deals, and the Pence deal paled in comparison to the much larger deals made in the Southern part of the state by the Angels and Dodgers, but both those teams failed to even make the playoffs while the Giants won the World Series. The difference was the Giants were a good enough team to make the playoffs without Pence. 

The argument can be made that the 2010 Giants and the 2011 Cardinals weren't in a much different position than the 2013 Nationals. Both were outside contenders at this time in their respective seasons, but they had talent. Much like the 2013 Nationals those teams went through in season changes. The biggest addition to the 2011 Cardinals weren't any of the players they traded for, but Jon Jay taking over full time in center field and Allen Craig being used as a big bat off the bench and utility corner man while the 2010 Giants played the arbitration game with Buster Posey and got to watch the emergence of Madison Bumgarner as a legitimate big league pitcher. The Nationals have already seen a similar sort of shift with Anthony Rendon taking over second base duties from a struggling Danny Espinosa.  

At four games back of the Reds for the second Wild Card and five games back of the Braves for the division it is tough to label the Nationals as a team that should make the playoffs, but the talent evaluation hasn't changed much from the beginning of the season until now. The Nationals have the star players in Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann at the front of the roster, and they have quality players in the middle of the roster. What they need is bottom of the roster talent that can perform at or above replacement level. What they need are more of the types of moves they made in bringing in Scott Hairston. Trading for Matt Garza doesn't make sense for the Washington Nationals. They have the top three starters to get the job done. What they need is filler in the fourth and fifth spot. Someone that can pitch like Joe Blanton did for the 2008 Phillies.   

The Nationals shouldn't stand pat, but they shouldn't make one big move either. Acquiring Matt Garza likely costs prospects the Nationals are going to miss in a couple seasons, but they can grab bench bats and back of the rotation starters for low level prospects, cash considerations, or players to be named later, and one of the moves I listed above in Cody Ross was a waiver claim and cost the Giants nothing in players. There are moves for the Nationals to make, but they aren't a solid enough team to go for the over the top kill shot like the 2009 Phillies or the 2010 Rangers, and they aren't a desperate enough team to give up a top prospect for a rental like the 2011 Giants or 2012 Angels. Remember slow and steady wins the race, not stupid and aggressive.  

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