At some point in the weeks leading up to the July 31, 2010 Non-Waiver Trade Deadling, a quote by DC GM Mike Rizzo featured in MLB.com's Scott Merkins article entitled, "If piece fills need, White Sox could make deal," and used repeatedly by writers everywhere who wondered just where the Nats would end up sending their big middle-of-the-order bat, became a sort of mantra for the general manager's stolid position when it came to discussions with other teams interested in acquiring Adam Dunn:
"For us to move him will be very painful, and it will probably be very, very painful for the team that wants to acquire him..."
Did other GM's and the national baseball writers following the story not believe Mr. Rizzo? As the deadline came and went without Dunn being dealt, the tenor of the conversation turned decidedly ugly. Chicago GM Ken Williams, whose White Sox were rumored to be front-runners for the 30-year-old 40/100 threat, was reportedly unhappy with the way the Washington Nationals handled themselves, with ESPN.com's Keith Law tweeting (@KeithLaw) that he'd, "Heard from an exec not involved in the discussions that the White Sox are furious with the Nats over Edwin Jackson." The rumor at the time had been first that a three-team trade involving the D-Backs, Sox and Nats had fallen apart and then that once Chicago acquired Jackson from Arizona he'd be flipped to Washington.
According to DC GM Mike Rizzo's comments in a post Deadline press conference that wasn't the case:
"'I'm not going to comment on any single player. There was no player that we asked some team to acquire that we were going to trade Adam Dunn for.'"
Early on the morning of July 31st, ESPN.com and Baseball America's Jerry Crasnick sent a message out via his Twitter account (@jcrasnick) which reported that, "Nats GM Mike Rizzo gave distinct impression that he'll keep Dunn if he can't get what he wants. It didn't seem like posturing." The previous night, however, ESPN.com's Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) had written that, "...in recent weeks, the Nationals had told other teams that a key piece to anyone who wanted Adam Dunn was Edwin Jackson," before suddenly deciding that they're not sure if they want Jackson anymore:
"So as of tonight, teams are pulling their hair out over the Nats' machinations. We'll see if the White Sox can finish a Dunn deal."
All the signs that the Nats were not getting the sort of offers they were looking for in order for them to be wiling to deal Dunn were there. Yet, in the final moments before the deadline passed, with Washington, by DC GM Mike Rizzo's own admission, still talking to several teams with interest in Dunn, some still thought a deal would get done. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal started the final hour before the deadline tweeting that talks were indeed continuing, "WhiteSox still working on Dunn. Would be Jackson-plus. Source: 'This thing is far from over,'" but about a half an hour before the deadline Mr. Rosenthal was back with another message which read, "Exec on Dunn: 'He's not going anywhere. Bank on it.'"
Adam Dunn was in the lineup that night, and he received a standing ovation from the DC Faithful during his first at bat. The Nationals were not similarly celebrated around baseball for the decision they made. ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote in an article entitled, "The deadline from all angles" that what the Nats did made little sense:
"One of the most asked questions after the deadline was this, sometimes by executives still frustrated from their trade talks with the Nationals: What in the world was Washington thinking?"
An unnamed baseball executive quoted in SI.com's Jon Heyman's post deadline analysis entitled, "MLB executives assess teams' performances at trade deadline" expressed the belief that, "What [the Nats] did with (Adam) Dunn is a sin," :
"They had the most attractive trade piece and kept him. Kenny Williams (of the White Sox) is the most aggressive GM in the game and he acquired a pitcher (Edwin Jackson) to set himself up for a (Dunn) trade. It can't be him...'"
And just this weekend, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal opened his "Full Count" video report by once again questioning the Nationals' judgement:
Ken Rosenthal: "If the Nationals sign Adam Dunn then their refusal to sign him will make more sense, but for now, rival executives still can't figure out what the Nats were thinking. If they had traded Dunn, they would have saved about $4 million in salary and another $2 million in draft pick bonuses. The players they would've gotten back would already have had minor league track records, and they also would have been closer to the majors. Now, next year's draft figures to be very deep and Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo excels at identifying amateur talent, but draft picks are draft picks, they take money and they take time..."
The DC GM Mike Rizzo says the reason he didn't trade Adam Dunn was very simple:
"The reason that we didn't trade Adam Dunn is that we never got a deal that we thought was equal or greater value to Adam Dunn. We were on the receiving end of the calls, we weren't making the calls, we got a lot of interest in Adam and just didn't see an equal return to what Adam Dunn brings to the ballclub on and off the field."
When MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling asked the Nats' general manager for his reaction to the reports around the league of rival GM's anger with the way the Nationals conducted themselves, Mr. Rizzo explained that, "...there was a way to get the player if you really, really wanted him," :
"And there was no ambiguity about what the player was. The teams knew exactly what they had to do. If they give us this player, we make the trade. Without this player, there was no trade to be made. And giving us three or four names instead of the name we want wasn't going to work."
Maybe the Nats actually think they can sign Adam Dunn. The comparisons to Alfonso Soriano don't hold up, and in hindsight the Nationals' decision to let Soriano walk and let the Cubs take on the burden of the oversized contract he signed in Chicago appears to have been the smart one, and each time Jordan Zimmermann throws a pitch in the majors Nats fans are reminded of that. Dunn's been claimed on waivers, it might be revealed today which team selected the DC slugger. If he's not moved, and it's not likely he will be, the Nats then have the rest of the year to work out an extension with Dunn. Maybe the problem is that the Nats think they're further along the path toward competing than anyone outside the organization does, and they want to keep the middle of their order together since it's their one identifiable strength after the young pitching they've developed. The Nationals' GM is taking the same risk his predecessor did in potentially letting the team's main power threat walk. While the rest of the baseball world is left wondering and pulling out their collective hair, the DC Faithful have their own mantra, "In Rizzo We Trust."