Marty Niland: History shows Rizzo deals for difference-makers

Aside from President Obama’s golf scores, the most closely held secrets in Washington these days are how long Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring injury will keep him sidelined and whether the Nationals will make a trade to replace Zimmerman’s potent bat if his absence is a long one.

General manager Mike Rizzo has said publicly that he likes the current roster, and that he has confidence that Danny Espinosa, Kevin Frandsen and recent call-up Zach Walters will collectively fill the void.

Perhaps he’s being straight. But if Rizzo does decide to pull the trigger on a deadline deal, history shows it it will likely work out well for the Nats. Since taking charge of the team’s front office in 2009, Rizzo has gotten value when he makes a deal, especially at the major league level.

Aside from deals that have landed prospects or players who eventually worked their way onto the big league roster, here are three examples of players who have come straight to Washington and made an impact after Rizzo traded for them.

When Wilson Ramos was injured in 2012, and the Nationals needed help behind the plate, Rizzo acquired Kurt Suzuki from Oakland. Despite having a subpar season with the Athletics to that point, Suzuki outpaced his career numbers in 43 games for the Nats, hitting .267./.321/.404. He also provided defensive stability behind the plate and superbly handled the Nats’ young pitching staff as the team won the National League East with the best record in baseball.

Before the 2013 season, the Nats were in need of a leadoff hitter and center fielder, and Rizzo again got value in a deal with Minnesota that landed Denard Span. Although Span got off to a slow start at the plate, his defense was sterling from the outset. He was one of two NL outfielders who did not make an error last season and he became known for spectacular catches.

Span’s bat started sizzling after the All-Star break, when he compiled a .302/.337/.413 line and hit safely in 29 straight games, the longest streak in the majors in 2013. He’s at it again this season, hitting .288/.344/.396. Span is tied for third in the league in doubles with 29 and stealing bases at a 90 percent clip, second in the NL.

Rizzo’s best deal, though, may have been one he made prior to this season, obtaining Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers. Since spending the first month of the season on the disabled list, Fister has quickly become the most reliable pitcher on the Nationals’ starting staff, accumulating 10 wins in his first 14 starts, fewer than any Washington pitcher since 2005. In his last six starts, Fister has been the league’s hottest pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw, going 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA, and walking just five batters while striking out 17.

If the Nats stand pat at the trade deadline, it will be because a player who can step in and play as well as Zimmerman isn’t available, or the price is too high. But if Rizzo does make a deal, it’s a good bet he’ll bring in someone who will make a difference.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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