The Nationals, man. When they signed Rafael Soriano for two years and a $22 million, it was because they could. They were out of roster spots to improve, but they still had some scratch. Getting a full-price closer was the baseball-team equivalent of walking into Brookstone and buying the $500 foot massager because they were bored. They had the perfect team, so …
Well, say. That didn't work out like we expected. The Nationals are four games under .500, and their expected record based on runs scored/allowed is even worse. They're 8½ games behind the Braves, farther out from the wild card, and CoolStandings.com pegs them as having an eight-percent chance at the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus is even more pessimistic, putting their chances at just under seven percent. It's the end of July. That combination makes it an easy decision: Sell.
Except, the Nationals are a freak team. They're under .500, and by all rights should be sellers. But they have little to sell. There is no gray area with the Nationals' roster. It's the dangedest thing. Let's run down the two types of players who usually get dealt by once-contenders at the deadline:
Pending free agents
That would be Dan Haren. Who is apparently terrible now. The other pending free agent is Chad Tracy. That's not exactly bidding-war material.
Useful veterans that other teams would want
Adam LaRoche? He has over $12 million left on his deal, and he's been something close to replacement-level this season. The Nationals would have to eat most of that money to get a Grade C prospect back, and at that point, why bother?
Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen probably have a little value, but they're cheap enough for the Nationals to prefer that value to whatever middling prospects they would get back in a minor deal. Detwiler is on the DL right now with a back problem, anyway. And while Denard Span is a free agent after 2014, trading him now would be a great way to buy high and sell low.
Maybe Kurt Suzuki? Everyone line up and make your offers for Kurt Suzuki.
Nope, the trading deadline is highlighting the strange dichotomy of the Nationals, who are split up like this:
Franchise building blocks not going anywhere
The mostly unwanted
The sell-low brigade
I guess so? Whatever
The only player I can't peg is Tyler Clippard. It's hard to consider a setup man a "building block," but I'm sure the Nationals are properly smitten with him. Maybe they belong to the relievers-are-always-overrated school. Somehow I don't think so. He's probably closer to the first category than any of the others.
So the bad news is that the Nationals are unlikely to make huge moves at the deadline to bring in a wheelbarrow filled with young talent. Sorry, Nats fans.
The good news is that the Nationals are unlikely to make huge moves at the deadline to bring in a wheelbarrow filled with young talent because they already have a wheelbarrow of young talent. They have the head start on a contending team that every deadline seller wants. Which brings us to that moment of self-evaluation: How were we so wrong about the Nationals?
Looking at the names up there, maybe we weren't. That's pretty stubborn, I guess, but things like the Guinness-approved worst bench in the world and a backfiring Haren aren't likely to happen again. This is a reloading team, not a rebuilding team. But considering the players on the roster, I'm not sure if there's anyone available in trade who would help the Nationals rebuild or reload. It's probably going to be a boring deadline for Washington.
That's almost certainly a good thing. Except for all the bad things that made this season so miserable for the Nationals.