The trade deadline is over.
What’s done is done.
After nearly half of a season spent crying desperately for some help, in any, way, shape or form, somehow, somewhere, the Nationals got some.
It didn’t make waves, but it solved the team’s biggest hole, one so gaping that astronauts gliding over Southeast Washington, D.C. may have remarked upon what they could have only assumed to be a recently-formed crater.
Brandon Kintzler, Sean Doolittle, and Ryan Madson — all acquired by the Nats near the deadline — are not stars, although all have stats pretty close to the relievers most consider to be “elite” — Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton come to mind.
Most important is the fact that the new group solves the issue of the late innings, as everyone got to see on Friday and Sunday afternoon.
At this point, Mike Rizzo and the Lerners have no more deals to swing — sure, they could hope to make something happen before August 31st, making a waiver trade, perhaps for a starting pitcher if Stephen Strasburg won’t be back until mid-September, but Zach Britton and Brad Hand are decisively not on the way to Washington.
So, what’s left for the Nationals to do? Sit back, relax, wait for the team to get healthy, and hope nobody else gets injured on the way to October.
Oh, yeah. And give a contract for another season to their most valuable asset.
No, Bryce Harper will not be signing any mega-extensions anytime soon (as far as anyone knows), nor will Anthony Rendon (that’s gonna be a thing soon, believe it or not).
With nothing else to do but scout prospects and prevent injuries, it is absolutely imperative that the Nats sit down with manager Dusty Baker and sign him up for the next one, two, maybe even three seasons.
For those already sold on Dusty, this is, well, an easy sell. Baker has gained the confidence of the entire clubhouse, including noted leader Jayson Werth.
By keeping Baker’s future uncertain, the Nationals are making their clubhouse, their team more concerned by the minute.
If the team is concerned, fed up with the ownership for not securing Baker’s future, then a trust crisis is suddenly triggered, with all sides — from the ownership group down to the clubhouse — not knowing who they can trust.
Dusty is too smart to bail on the Nationals a la Jim Riggleman in 2011; this iteration of the ballclub is simply too good for anyone to leave voluntarily.
With one speedy recovery, one continued resurgence, and a little luck, the Nats could just as easily be in the World Series as, say, the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Houston Astros.
However, Baker can easily bail on the Nats this offseason; Baker has said that he intends for his stint in Washington to be his final in baseball. Who’s to say he changes his mind if the Nats exit in the first round before the ownership even gets a chance to extend him an offer, leaving Baker on the open market?
For those not sold on Baker’s merits: There are some concessions to be made.
He manages the bullpen in a way that’s slightly too traditional for those with a more modern taste. He doesn’t always make the best lineup decisions (Ryan Raburn in the two-spot? Really?), and he’s left a starting pitcher in there too long a few times.
But consider this: On July 16th, the Nationals trotted out a starting lineup against the Cincinnati Reds featuring a whopping three Opening Day starters—Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Anthony Rendon.
The team barely made it, scraping through with only 14 runs.
No, it wasn’t the Dodgers or Astros, it was the last-place Reds.
But the win serves as a testament to Dusty’s managing, to giving bench players the playing time they need to thrive, so that when five of them are needed in the same day, they can all hit the living daylights out of the ball.
Like him or not, Baker has complete control of his clubhouse and drives his team like a fine-tuned German car. Even the World Series-winning Chicago Cubs couldn’t boast that last season, publicly feuding with Aroldis Chapman and Willson Contreras.
If you were to ask any Nats player -- off the record, of course — if they had any grievances to air with Baker, it would be baseball’s best kept secret if they answered in the affirmative.
So now the Nats have a choice. They can either do what any sensible club in baseball would do and lock up a manager that they love for a while longer, thus keeping the trust of the team and the fans.
Or, they can wait until the last minute, lowball Baker — which they’ve done to countless managers — and potentially end up back in the market if Baker refuses.
That’s an unlikely scenario, but one that should make the Lerners grab for their checkbooks before even thinking about it for more than a single second, as it’ll disrupt the most basic composure of what could otherwise be a championship team.
Sure, there may be a middle-ground here, where the team waits until after the season ends and locks Baker up for another two years, lowballing him again but being saved by his loyalty.
One would still have to wonder how the clubhouse would perceive such an action that leaves the job safety of their beloved leader in question.
It’s the Lerner family’s choice, because the Nats are ultimately their team, and the money in question is ultimately their money. Spending it the wrong way is their prerogative.
However, they may also later find that getting angry, withdrawing support, requesting trades, leaving in free agency, and cancelling season tickets after seeing yet another wasted prime of yet another iteration of the Nationals by alienating the team is also the fans and players’ prerogative.