DETROIT - Things can certainly change very quickly at this time of year, but the Nationals are not expected to make any big splashes prior to today’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline. General manager Mike Rizzo might look to upgrade his bench or tweak the back-end of the roster, but the chances of adding (or subtracting) a major piece appear to be very slim.
Since there isn’t much trade speculation involving the Nats right now, I figured I’d take a different look at the trade deadline and talk to a few Nationals players who have been dealt leading up to July 31 in the past to get their take on what life is like hearing the rumors, learning they’ve been traded, and then picking up their life and moving to a new city and organization.
For fans, the non-waiver trade deadline can be one of the more exciting times of the season, as they get to monitor all the rumors and speculation about their favorite team and hope that a big-name player or hot-shot prospect is coming to town. Players view the trade deadline and the days and weeks leading up to it much differently.
For Scott Hairston, July trades are nothing new. The 33-year-old outfielder has been dealt four times in his career, three of which were in the weeks leading up to the deadline. In 2007, Hairston was shipped from the Diamondbacks to the Padres four days before the deadline. In 2009, he went from the Padres to the A’s on July 5. And this season, the Cubs traded Hairston to the Nats a little more than three weeks ago.
Hairston learned firsthand about the business side of the game fairly early in his major league career, but he says that still doesn’t make things a whole lot easier if your name is the one being thrown out there as a trade chip this time of year.
“I think for a player, it’s pretty tough to focus in this time,” Hairston said. “There’s a lot of rumors floating around and for myself this time around, I don’t really have much to worry about, but for the guys that are on the block, especially if you’re an everyday player, it’s hard to keep your mind off of it. And that’s a challenge, I would say, for everybody in that position.”
The 2007 trade that sent Hairston from Arizona to San Diego came at a really tough time for Hairston and his wife on a personal level; Hairston’s wife had just given birth to their second son one week prior, and after Hairston was traded, his wife needed to pack up all their stuff, hop on a plane and move the whole family.
“That time was kind of a stressful time,” Hairston said. “She was up with the baby all night, I was trying to get some sleep, I was trying to adjust to a new team. That’s the reality of the game. I know it’s different when you compare it to other walks of life as far as different jobs and scenarios and whatnot, but baseball, it’s definitely a challenge. Not just playing a 162-game season, but dealing with possible trades midseason.”
Adam LaRoche has also been a part of multiple deadline deals, but for him, strangely enough, both times that he’s been traded in July happened within a 10-day span. In 2009, LaRoche expected the Pirates to deal him leading up to the deadline because they were very much out of the playoff chase, and on July 22, he was indeed shipped to the Red Sox.
LaRoche packed up his stuff and moved to Boston, but after playing just six games with the Sox, he was dealt again, this time to the Braves for Casey Kotchman on deadline day. That move, unlike the first, was a complete surprise.
“As a player, a lot of times you see it coming,” LaRoche said. “There’s talk about it, it’s out there, it’s advertised, so weeks ahead of time, it’s a possibility. And a lot of times, when those rumors start flying, a GM, somebody will bring you in and explain the situation. There’s a reason that you see something come across the board, you know, ‘So-and-so might be traded.’ Most of the time, there’s some truth to that somewhere.
“The first time I got traded, I expected it. (The Pirates) were trying to make some moves and my name was out there, so it wasn’t a shock. And then a week later, total shock. It popped up out of nowhere. So again, from the player’s side, it just totally depends on what’s leading up to that and whether you have a little bit of a heads up.”
Often, LaRoche said, a trade can be a chance for a bit of a fresh start. A player on a losing streak can find himself thrust into a playoff race, or a guy struggling to get things going in one city can be sparked by a trade to a new team.
“It can be a good thing. It can be guys need a change of scenery,” LaRoche said. “Some guys just hit a patch where they’re just kind of stale in their careers and they go somewhere else and it rejuvenates them. They may go to a contender and spark something new. Go to a new coach that tweaks something and your career takes off. So just depends how you look at it.
“Most young guys when they get traded, they’re like, ‘This team doesn’t want me.’ And really, the right way to look at it is, another team wanted you that much. A lot of the time, a team wanted you that much that they gave up that much to get you.”
Kurt Suzuki’s trade to the Nats last year actually came Aug. 3, three days after the non-waiver deadline had passed. You don’t usually see many trades after July 31 because players need to pass through waivers unclaimed in order for teams to have freedom to shop them to any other squad, but in some ways, Suzuki expected to be dealt even after the non-waiver deadline was in the rear-view mirror.
“My agent said the (non-waiver) deadline wasn’t my deadline because of my contract and stuff like that,” Suzuki said. “He said I was going to clear waivers, so he said there’s always going to be a chance for you. And sure enough (the A’s) traded for (catcher George) Kottaras. And so I said, ‘I gotta be traded soon.’ Three days later, I think, I got traded.”
Like with Hairston, Suzuki had a young family that he needed to think about immediately after the trade, making things even more complicated. His wife and daughter were living with him out on the West Coast when he was dealt, and they then needed to quickly make a decision about how they’d handle a cross-country move.
“That took me a little bit to get comfortable,” Suzuki said with a smile. “I had a house to move out of with (stuff) everywhere, because of my daughter. My wife rented a U-Haul, threw everything in there, went down south and that day I found out, I packed whatever clothes I could fit in my bag and went out here (to D.C.). And then she came out like three weeks, four weeks later. So I was away from my daughter for like a month. So that was kinda tough. It wasn’t the smoothest sailing. It was tough, but we managed.”
Suzuki called the deal “bittersweet,” because he was leaving the only organization he’d ever known, but joining one where he’d get more playing time. That was exactly what Wilson Ramos felt two days before the deadline in 2010, when he was shipped to D.C. by the Twins, the organization that had signed him in 2004.
Ramos, unlike the other three guys I interviewed for this story, was the unproven piece in his trade. He had played just seven big league games with the Twins before they dealt him for closer Matt Capps, and was stuck behind All-Star catcher Joe Mauer on the depth chart. Playing time was at a minimum in Minnesota, but he was to be the catcher of the future in D.C.
“For players, when you play for a long time with one organization, you never think about trades,” Ramos said. “When I wasn’t to play with the Twins, I hear about possible trades for me. The day I get traded, it was a little bit sad, but that was good for my career. So I get excited at one point, ‘I’m going to another team, I’m getting an opportunity to play in the big leagues.’
“So that’s what we want. The other guys, they’re thinking about trades right now. They have to clear their mind and just think about that’s a good opportunity if they get traded.”
The toughest part about the trade, Ramos says, was meeting an entire new group of players, coaches and front office staffers and getting acclimated in a new environment. That can be tough, especially for a guy who was still trying to get comfortable with the English language, “but it’s not bad for us, because another door is open,” Ramos said. “Come through.”
“I understand, when Joe Mauer signed the big contract, that say to me, ‘That door is closed for me.’ So if I play in the big leagues with this team, I will be the backup. So when I get traded, I get a little excited because this team give me an opportunity to play in the big leagues.
“That’s what I want. That’s the dream for all players.”