What if I'd told you there was a perfect replacement for Adam Dunn - a younger one at that, who's won two Gold Gloves and put up some of the game's best power numbers in one of baseball's most cavernous parks - available at only the cost of prospects? Would that make some of your post-Dunn depression go away?
Well, don't get too excited. The antidote is already off the market, headed to Boston, and the way he got there illustrates another area where the Nationals simply need to get better.
Adrian Gonzalez, the slugging Padres first baseman who'd played the last five seasons in San Diego for relative peanuts, is reportedly headed to the Boston Red Sox in a deal that takes one of the game's premier first basemen off the market and ensures the 29-year-old will hit a big payday after earning no more than $4.875 million in three All-Star seasons for the Padres.
The Nationals were among the teams rumored to be interested; getting Gonzalez would have been the kind of coup that made fans quickly forget about Dunn's departure to the White Sox. But for Washington, here's the kicker: Boston got Gonzalez not by dumping any of its young major league stars, but by trading prospects that aren't especially close to the majors.
Multiple reports say the deal centered around pitcher Casey Kelly and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, as part of a four-player package. Both are 21, and neither has played above Double-A. But the Red Sox have the kind of depth in their farm system to keep their major league roster intact while adding expensive pieces to it. It's the same way the Phillies have made deals for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in the past two years. The Nationals, right now, simply don't have that luxury.
Their pursuits of a pitcher this winter could cost them shortstop Ian Desmond or pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, two players expected to be on their 2011 Opening Day roster. Second baseman Danny Espinosa, another major-league ready player, is also a player teams could ask for in return for a pitcher. Instead of parting with players in the lower reaches of the minors, the Nationals have to strip away at their core to make a competitive trade offer.
Could they include prospects like catcher Derek Norris, first baseman Chris Marrero or outfielder Michael Burgess in a deal? Sure, but there are two problems with that. First, those players, particularly Marrero and Burgess, are among the Nationals' best prospects at positions where they don't have much depth. And the second problem is a bigger one: Most teams will want young pitching back in a deal, and the Nationals don't have enough of it. The prospects with the highest ceilings in the organization, like left-hander Sammy Solis and right-hander A.J. Cole, were just drafted this year and can't be traded yet. And Washington's pitching prospects in the high minors are largely control artists without a big fastball or a dominating out pitch - not exactly the kind of talent that gets scouts drooling.
That leaves the Nationals with tough decisions to make: Do they trade away their young players currently on the major league roster, or do they leave the group intact and pass on sluggers like Gonzalez or pitchers like Kansas City's Zack Greinke and Tampa Bay's Matt Garza because they come at too high a price?
There's not one right answer, but while the Nationals are figuring it out, teams like the Red Sox and Phillies have the trading chips to get better now while keeping the future intact.