It's officially July, which means Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, and plenty of others, will be inundated with questions about who's staying and who's going, who's a candidate to head out of town in a trade and who can make plans to be here for the long term.
That's a rite of the month in every major-league clubhouse, and to get out in front of it, Riggleman has already discussed it with his players. His message? Play well enough that any thoughts of breaking the team up are squelched.
The Nationals are in a unique spot; they're not close enough to being in the race that they'd be seen as buyers, but not hopeless enough that it would be completely frivolous for them to add a piece, particularly if it's someone they can keep long-term. But how they play in July could have some bearing on it. Riggleman wanted to make sure his players know that.
"As a manager, you always feel like when things aren't going well, you want more time to get things turned around with this group that we have here," Riggleman said. "That's something you've got to earn, though; you can't earn the right to make that strong suggestion that we keep this group together when you're not winning enough ballgames to justify it. We've got time, but time is running short."
Riggleman was lukewarm on the idea that the Nationals had to have another bat to help their ailing offense, since pitchers have dominated the 2010 season across both leagues. He repeated general manager Mike Rizzo's common refrain - that the Nationals will look to make a deal that helps them now and for the future - but expressed some hope this team could stay intact.
"My message to them was, 'Let's get this thing going so we're not taking this team apart. Let's get this thing going to the point where we become more of a factor in the division, and we're able to win enough ballgames to justify keeping the team together,'" Riggleman said. "There's a lot of season to play, but there's not a lot of season to the trade deadline. So we need to make a move in that direction sooner than later, because if we want to keep this ballclub together, we need to do that."