With scouts not attending games, Nats digging deep for information before trade deadline

The Aug. 31 trading deadline is less than a week away from happening. The Nationals certainly have some issues that could be addressed at different positions, whether it's a power bat for the lineup, a starting pitcher or a left-handed reliever - or all three.

If general manager Mike Rizzo, a former scout, decides to strike a deal, it will happen just one month into this abbreviated season in a time where scouts are not allowed to attend games and one where there is no minor league season.

So video and television have been one way the Nats have been able to scout players on other teams and Rizzo said they also reach back to past performances.

Rizzo-Mask-Watches-Game-Sidebar.jpg"Obviously, it's much more difficult to make an assessment and evaluation with those means of viewing a player," Rizzo said this week on a Zoom video call. "We have to really trust our scouts. We have to trust the backgrounds that we have had on players. Hopefully, you have a history of a player that you are acquiring, not only the last couple of weeks of this season, but in the past.

"We always like to make our adjustments on the gut feeling of the scout, the evaluation of the scout, but also the history and the past performance of players to make any time of evaluation. I don't think that will change, but there will be an added layer of non-information that we will have to deal with."

Manager Davey Martinez understands this makes the job of the pro scout much more difficult in so many ways when they have to pick and choose a player that might fit a need with the Nats, but also be a good fit with the Nats.

"These guys are constantly watching games on TV, watching video," Martinez said today's during pregame Zoom video call. "Rizzo is talking to his scouts religiously this time of year. If they deem somebody could help us, I know they are on it. I will talk to Riz on occasion about what's going on or what he thinks, but my job is to handle the 28 guys (we) got here right now in the clubhouse. When he comes up with some kind of answers, we will all sit down and talk about it and we will come up with definitive (plans). But I know they are working diligently to make us better every day and Mike does a great job with that."

Martinez is managing the Nationals, but he also is essentially scouting the game as he manages it. He can see things that a scout from some future opponent doesn't see when they watch the game on TV. That's a big deal when you are trying to decide if the guy could fit in on your team.

"I'll speak for myself. When I'm watching a game on TV, it's hard for me to really see what's going on a broader spectrum," Martinez said. "When I'm actually in the game, in managing, I get to see so many different other things. For me, every day I am scouting, I am looking at different things, watching not only our players but other players on other teams, what they do.

"A lot of times when you are just watching a video, you don't get to see that or you don't get to see what's happening other than that person. But there is something else you might be able to pick up when you are watching live and seeing it in person and really watching it as it progresses and how it goes on and see how the guys interact, because that is a big part of it. Not only do we look for the best players that we could possibly get, but we also look for character and how they fit in and chemistry."

Martinez said body language of the player can sometimes be missed on a quick camera cutaway or when an inning ends.

"Scouts are watching them in the dugout," Martinez said. "They are watching how they run to the field after a strikeout. Sometimes that stuff gets cut off when you are watching it on TV or video. I think it's important that you have scouts in the seats watching these different things."

Sometimes seeing the demeanor of a player in an open-air stadium, how he reacts to an umpire's call or a manager's direction, doesn't come through on video or a live TV broadcast.

How is he with his teammates? Is he sitting next to his teammates after a bad play or missed call? Is he seeking advice from his coach before or after an at-bat?

These are important attributes that are critical for Rizzo and the scouts when deciding who will help the Nats and who might make a smooth transition to the clubhouse.

"That's part of what we do and how we analyze players that can actually help us," Martinez said. "We look for all these things, who fits in. What good player will fit in with what we are trying to do with our chemistry. That's a big part of it, and when those guys can't see that and all they are seeing is them playing (on TV) - for me, I know what kind of hitter a person is or what kind of pitcher is. But what does he do outside of that?"

So how do scouts in 2020 go to that third or fourth layer in study of a prospective player? They reach back to coaches, teammates and performances from previous seasons in order to decide.

"Now it's basically they are on the phone, they are calling people that might have known this player or seen this player or talked or interacted with this player," Martinez said. "So you are going by word of mouth a lot with other people. And not being able to put eyes on the player and see how he really is throughout the whole game - or two or three games. A lot of times, we sit on players for a week or 10 days to see how he acts and see how reacts to different things."

It all boils down to a report that may not be exactly up to date in August 2020.

But every team and every scouting department is in the same boat during the coronavirus pandemic. With no college games, no minor league games and no ability to actually sit in the stands or the press box of a major league game, the thoroughness one would normally receive in a scouting report is narrowed.

Based on these unusual circumstances, will this mean the Nats would be more or less aggressive this season at the deadline? Does the fact the team is 11-15 make Rizzo more inclined to make a trade? Or with Stephen Strasburg and Starlin Castro out for the season, would that mean the Nats would just ride out the year and get recharged to full strength for 2021?

Will other teams inquire about the top pitching prospects the Nats have stashed at their alternate training site or even some of the guys that have made their major league debuts this season?

It certainly will be interesting to see what happens Monday and how much Rizzo's inclination to trade or receive players in trade is based on the constraints of 2020.

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