With the All-Star Game behind us - and boy, I'll miss it oh, so dearly - we can now start looking ahead to the second half of the season and some of the hot topics which await us.
One of those hot topics is the trade deadline and how the Nationals might attack negotiations with other clubs given their legitimate playoff aspirations.
There's been talk for a while now about the Nationals having interest in a center fielder with speed who can stabilize the leadoff spot. That's a hole that they would eventually like to fill.
But if I were to guess, I'd say there's a much better chance of that hole being filled through free agency or internally over the next couple years, rather than through a pre-deadline trade.
The reasoning is simple: Once Jayson Werth returns from his broken wrist in August, the Nats will have all three outfield spots accounted for. Bryce Harper will play center, Michael Morse will play left and Werth will slide into his spot in right field.
It'd be nice to add a Denard Span or a Justin Upton, but where would you put him? And how much would you need to give up in order to get him on board?
If the Nationals want to pursue Michael Bourn this offseason, he'll be on the free agent market, and they can have their crack at him then. Or, they could let Harper hold down the fort until one of their young center field prospects, namely Brian Goodwin, is ready to join the major league club. There just doesn't seem to be a fit now for an outside center fielder via a trade.
When it comes to starting pitching, a few big-name hurlers have been linked to the Nationals, but they have a couple in-house options who could be called upon once Stephen Strasburg gets shut down after reaching his innings limit.
The Nats still hope Chien-Ming Wang can figure out his mechanical issues and regain the form that he showed early in spring training, and there's always John Lannan down at Triple-A Syracuse, a guy who has proven his abilities at the major league level and has gotten back on track of late. Lannan has allowed just one run in five of his last eight outings for the Chiefs.
Once Strasburg is eventually shut down, likely in early September, the Nats would only need a replacement starter for another month or so anyway. And should they reach the playoffs, they would require at most four starters during postseason play.
There's no major need to acquire a Zach Greinke or another big-name starter, and some of the mid-level names getting tossed around wouldn't be far superior to Lannan. A down-the-stretch top-four of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler sure wouldn't be too shabby.
Looking at things from a broader view, the Nationals already have three guys they believe are top-of-the-rotation starters in Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann, and all three are under contract through at least the 2015 season. Add in Detwiler, and you've got four relatively young arms who really haven't even reached their full potential yet. The Nats don't really need a "rental" ace, and they don't need to spend big to bring on another one long-term, either.
The Nationals already traded away a wealth of prospects to acquire Gonzalez in a deal over the winter. Their minor league system is by no means hurting for talent after that move, but this is an organization that's building for the future as much as it is trying to compete for a pennant in the present. GM Mike Rizzo won't mortgage future seasons in order to make a splash at the deadline, and he won't put all his eggs in this year's basket.
In reality, the post-break returns of Drew Storen, Werth and Chad Tracy will be the equivalent of three fairly major trade acquisitions.
In those three currently-rehabbing players, the Nationals will get back a proven, talented back-end of the bullpen guy, a corner outfielder with pop and the ability to get on base and a left-handed bat off the bench who can provide a big knock when you need one.
Sounds like you're supplementing your roster pretty well just with those guys.
Making a big trade over the next couple weeks would get the fan base even a bit more excited and would create more sports-talk radio chatter. But not every team in the mix for a playoff spot needs to make a big splash at the deadline in order to be successful.
Once Werth returns, the Nats will have their eight starting position players. Even when Strasburg is shut down, they'll still have a pretty damn strong rotation. And that's why I'd be surprised to see the Nationals add more than a bench player or another reliever prior to the trade deadline.