Calendar might dictate when Nats make final roster tweaks

I have an alternate theory on the trade earlier this week that sent outfielder Corey Brown back to the A’s in exchange for cash considerations: It was easier for Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo to ship another player to the A’s than it was for him to try to maneuver a bottle of fine wine past the TSA checkpoint for holiday dinner with A’s GM Billy Beane’s family.

OK, I kid, I kid. Check out Dan Kolko’s explanation of the many deals between Rizzo and Beane in this post from yesterday. It’s good stuff.

What I fail to understand is why teams can’t just say they sold a player to another club. This happened all the time back in the day. None of this silly “cash considerations” stuff. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that they’re embarrassed by the amount of money they either got or gave up in a straight cash deal. Former Nats GM Jim Bowden once told me that when he was with the Reds, he’d sell his Rule 5 Draft pick for a pittance like $50.

With Christmas approaching, most of baseball will gradually ramp down - well, for at least the 24 hours of Dec. 25. GMs famously joke about their job being a 24/7/365 gig, except for Christmas - and then they add the caveat that if another GM wants to talk trade, they’ll gladly listen.

I don’t expect Rizzo to be taking a break from ham, turkey, lasagna or whatever else is served at his holiday dinner table. He’s got precious few spots to fill as the Nationals gear up for a mid-February arrival at Space Coast Stadium and reporters ready their reservations for Bonefish Willy’s (which does a fantastic jerked chicken).

The Nats need only minor tweaking - a backup catcher who can bridge the gap if Wilson Ramos lands again on the disabled list, maybe a backup corner infielder to push Tyler Moore in spring camp, perhaps a situational lefty since newly acquired Jerry Blevins isn’t just a one-and-done reliever only capable of facing one batter.

When will these moves be made? I wouldn’t be surprised if Rizzo waits out the calendar for them.

Teams spend the first months of the offseason - November and December - filling the largest holes on their rosters. Makes sense, since the biggest needs draw the immediate response. Those role players and backups can wait, and usually do.

Aside from the occasional free agent who falls late to a club because of the market for his services has dwindled (see, Adam Dunn, Nationals, February 2009), most of the period after Christmas and until spring training opens is reserved for the small moves that sometimes pay big dividends.

It’s not that there aren’t available backup catchers, corner infielders or lefty specialists who might want to play in D.C. and in whom the Nats might be interested. There are. But why rush the process when the market is flush and you can wait out a guy who might not have any other offers? This is why you sometimes see experienced veterans signing in mid-January or why some guys wait until camp is about to begin before agreeing to a minor league deal with a major league invite.

Yes, the Nats have had discussions about John Buck backing up Ramos instead of Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon. But it’s not like a bunch of clubs are beating down Buck’s door with multiple-year contract offers. Maybe Rizzo checks back with him once we’re in calendar 2014 and finds him more eager to work something out at terms more agreeable to the Nats.

Maybe the Nats had some interest in veteran third baseman Eric Chavez, who re-signed a few days ago with the Diamondbacks. But it’s not like he’s the only fish in the sea. Remember all the chatter about the Nats being interested in Jeff Baker? Surprise, he’s still unsigned.

The market for left-handed relief specialists is a tad thinner, mainly because there was a robust free agent market this offseason. But even though there’s not a lot to choose from - a reunion with Michael Gonzalez, anyone? - someone might shake loose from the tree as a result of another signing. Rizzo has proven adept at scouring the waiver wire, and there’s no reason he can’t find a LOOGY (lefty one out guy) to his liking that way.

I feel sorry for left-handed pitchers, because it seems like their market traditionally takes the longest to settle. Each year, in mid- to late January and early February, it feels like there are guys inking deals and beating a path to either Arizona or Florida who probably could have or should have signed earlier.

But that’s the way baseball’s calendar goes. And when you’re a contending team with few holes to fill, or a player hoping to land a spot on one of those teams, you probably don’t mind waiting the market out.

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