With the Nats having not won a game after the All-Star break and in the midst of a 2-10 stretch, there are many looking at the Nationals as sellers. The only problem is the Nats don't have a lot to sell, and that isn't because they don't have talent. Any contending team would love to have Jordan Zimmermann, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Ian Desmond. The only issue is that they are integral to the Nats' success going forward. The core pieces of the roster are performing as expected. The issues have all been at the fringes and losing any core piece would have a negative impact on 2014 and beyond.
The Nationals need to be cautious and learn from other teams that went from contenders one season to disappointments the next. The most recent example of this are the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the National League West in 2011, finished at .500 in 2012 and then traded away their best player for pennies on the dollar. The Diamondbacks are full of talent, but have now fallen to second place behind the Dodgers, and it is certain that a player of Justin Upton's ability would make a difference in that division race.
It is rare that a good baseball move happens when a team panics, and the core of the Nationals roster is as well-built and talented as any in baseball. The 2013 season hasn't gone the Nationals' way and the 2013 trade deadline and offseason are going to be the toughest tests of general manager Mike Rizzo's career. There are different ways he could panic and none of them are good.
He could decide to trade away prospects like Brian Goodwin or Lucas Giolito for rentals to try and make one last run in 2013, or he could look at the current roster and sell off veteran players who are under contract for 2014 like Adam LaRoche and Denard Span for low-level prospects that won't have an impact on the 2014 or 2015 Nats.
Trading LaRoche and Span would make sense in some scenarios, but not in the one the Nationals find themselves in. With Matt Skole having spent most of the season on the disabled list in the minors and Tyler Moore underperforming at the major league level, there is no in-house replacement for LaRoche. With Goodwin not ready for the majors and Eury Perez having the ceiling of a pinch-runner, the same goes for Span. Unless a team blows the Nationals away with an offer, moving either one of those players is unwise.
The best moves the Nationals can make in the offseason are ones that another 2012 disappointment team made. The Red Sox had a very similar season in 2012 as the Nationals are having in 2013. Nothing went right. There were injuries and questions about the management, and at times just plain bad luck, but the Red Sox's offseason moves weren't flashy. They signed Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and Shane Victorino. Nothing too special and not one of them took a long-term pricey commitment. The Red Sox believed in their core much as the Nationals should.
The 2014 offseason is full of players that the Nationals could get at a discount for various reasons and none make a better example than Curtis Granderson. While the high-profile Scott Boras clients like outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo will be hitting the market this offseason, they will both come with Boras-level price tags and both have been injury-prone in the past. Granderson has played less than 130 games once in the last eight seasons and it happens to be this one. That will drive both the dollars and the years down and make him the exact type of player the Nationals should target in the offseason, but for the deadline, they should do as little as possible.
Rizzo should neither give away players the Nats need for 2014, nor try and trade for rentals to make one final push. If a deal comes to the Nationals and will improve the club, he should listen. Both the Red Sox and Tigers are desperate for bullpen help and the Nationals have relievers that could be moved for a gain that helps in the near future. The important test for Rizzo is to not overreact to the disappointment of 2013. The Nationals' core is solid, the future is still bright and one bump in the road shouldn't be seen as a monumental setback.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.