The Nationals watched Monday as the trade deadline hit then passed without a deal executed.
They held onto their prospects and veterans on one-year deals. They didn’t land relief help, or a low-cost starter for the back of the rotation. They are what they are in 2020, for better or worse.
“No deals were made,” Davey Martinez said. “Like I said before, our focus is really on the guys we have. Mike [Rizzo] and his guys worked diligently and I trust their process of what they try to do to get us better. We’re staying put. We just got to go out there now and play baseball.”
Meanwhile, the Mets, Phillies, Braves and Marlins -- all ahead of the Nationals in the standings -- made moves. They brought in a variety of help from the bullpen to the lineup. Yet, the Nationals, filled with holes, remained stagnant.
They could have gone one of three ways: This in-between choice of doing nothing; moving a prominent prospect for a significant piece; or unloading several veteran players who are unlikely to be part of the team next year.
First, to the option they chose: The Nationals are 12-19 as they open a three-game series in Philadelphia. They play 25 of their final 29 games against National League East Division opponents.They are six games out of first place and three games out of a postseason spot. The argument for holding their ground is rooted in the eight-team postseason. They still have a chance to slip in. Then, they throw Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin in a three-game series. Win that, everything else turns more toward house money in a season of crucial injuries and under-performance.
Next, to the prospects. The Nationals need their upper-tier players going forward. In fact, they will be using a couple the rest of the way.
“We didn’t want to give up some of our younger prospects,” Martinez said. “We believe these guys are a big part of our future here. We’ve got some pretty good ones.”
Luis García will continue to play second base often, Martinez said. Carter Kieboom remains at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg. The most recent first-round picks -- a trio of starting pitchers -- remain part of the club and in Fredericksburg, too.
That leaves the elders. Rizzo’s tactic of signing less-expensive, older players to short contracts allows him flexibility in multiple places. Year-to-year, he’s not saddled with someone who fails to perform. If there is a flop, he can quickly cut the loss. Also, the contracts give him a chance for light, and multiple, movements at the trade deadline, though little return would be expected (see 2018). The Nationals have seven players unlikely to be back next year because they are on a one-year deal or in a contractual situation with an option which the team is doubtful to execute:
Asdrúbal Cabrera (Free agent at the end of the season) Adam Eaton ($10.5 million team option) Sean Doolittle (Free agent at the end of the season) Josh Harrison (Free agent at the end of the season) Eric Thames (Free agent at the end of the season) Aníbal Sánchez ($12 million team option) Kurt Suzuki (Free agent at the end of the season)
All of these players could have been rentals for a team in a better position than the Nationals. Again, the return would be limited. But, it would also be more than zero.
Instead, the active 28-man roster is the same. The 40-man roster is the same. The 60-player pool is the same. The Nationals are in a hole and filled with them. They now only have one place to turn in order to attempt a fix.