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Washington Nationals at the 2020 Trade Deadline: What will GM Mike Rizzo do?

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What will Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office do at the trade deadline today?

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

How will the Washington Nationals, who are 12-19 going into the 2020 Trade Deadline approach things today? Will they try to add to their roster? Stand pat?

Will they deal the expiring contracts of veteran players? Were some of the prospects added to the 60-Man Player Pool recently added so they can be dealt?

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo has talked often over the last weeks about how his club will attack the deadline this time around. What has he said?

ROTATION NEEDS:

Stephen Strasburg underwent surgery this week, and he’s done for the season. Austin Voth and Erick Fedde have struggled to go deep in their outings, as have most of their starters in this 60-game MLB campaign, which started after a three-week ramp-up in July that doesn’t seem like it was enough to get everyone up to speed. Rizzo, however, has said he likes the pitching depth in the organization right now.

“We like the depth that we have at starting pitching, and we’re one of the organizations that have depth at that spot,” he explained in an August 23rd Zoom call with reporters.

“We get calls about our starting pitching all the time and we feel very, very fortunate that we have that type of depth of young arms that can contribute on the big league level.

“Very excited about the prospects of these young kids coming up. You look at the [Austin] Voths and the [Erick] Feddes and the way that they performed last year in a championship season and helped us keep the ship afloat and pitched extremely well in a pennant race, and then you run guys out there like a Wil Crowe and a Seth Romero [ed. note - “Romero is now injured.”] who have shown that their stuff plays in the big leagues, that is very positive news for us moving forward, and you look at the depth of young pitchers that we have coming on the farm with the [Cade] Cavallis and the [Jackson] Rutledges and the [Joan] Adons and the [Tim] Cates and those type of guys, we feel that this organization is well-stocked for a run in our 1-3-5-year windows.

“We feel good about the roster we have and the talent that we have amassed not only in the minor league level.”

Asked in a follow-up if that meant that, no, he would not pursue pitching at the deadline, Rizzo said, as usual, that the club is always open to the right deal.

“We’re still assessing where we are in the deadline,” Rizzo explained. “Suffice it to say we are comfortable with our rotation right now. That doesn’t mean that we’re not looking and if a deal suits us we won’t make a deal, but we’re always on the look to improve our ballclub, but we’re excited and happy about the prospects of our rotation not only for this year, but for years moving forward.”

TRADE DEADLINE - IN-PERSON SCOUTING = DIFFICULT:

Reporters are allowed in ballparks, with screening, and players are out there sitting in the stands when they’re not playing, but advance scouts haven’t been allowed in the parks in this pandemic campaign, so they’re working remotely, watching video and trying to do an already difficult job in an even more difficult scenario. How will that affect things this time around?

“The scouting aspect will affect us a little bit,” Rizzo said earlier this month.

“We lean heavily on our scouts at the trade deadline, but we will not take this any less aggressively ... on how we go about the trade deadline.

“We’re here to win the World Series this year, and that never changes in my mind or in Davey [Martinez’s] mind or in the owner’s mind.

“We’re here to win, and we’re very, very competitive, and if we see a place to improve ourselves and a deal that makes sense for us, we’re never afraid to pull the trigger.”

But, a reporter wondered, will it be more difficult to assess a player when you can’t put eyes on them?

“We’ve been scouting via video and television,” Rizzo said. “But it’s obviously it’s much more difficult to make an assessment and evaluation with those means of viewing a player. We have to really trust our scouts. We have to trust the backgrounds that we’ve had on players. Hopefully you have a history on the player you’re acquiring, not only the last couple of weeks of this season, but in the past. So we always like to make our judgements based on the gut feel of the scout, the evaluation of the scout, but also the history and the past performances of players to make any type of evaluation.

“I don’t think that will change, but there will be an added layer of non-information that we’ll have to deal with.”

And how are they dealing with it?

Manager Davey Martinez offered his own take on the difficulty of scouting via video and why it’s an inferior but unfortunately necessary approach in this odd season when he spoke with reporters earlier this week.

“I know these guys are obviously watching games on TV, watching video,” Martinez said.

“I know Mike [Rizzo] is talking to his scouts religiously at this time of year. If they deem that somebody can help us, I know they’re on it, so but that to me, I’ll talk to [Rizzo] on occasion about what’s going on or what he thinks, but my job is to handle the 28 guys I’ve got here right now in the clubhouse. So, when he comes up with some kind of answers we’ll all sit down and talk about it and come up with a definitive, but I know they’re working diligently to make us better every day, and Mike does a great job with that.”

As for the in-person vs video scouting question? He’s pro in-person for the obvious reasons, as he explained (at length).

“I’ll speak for myself,” Martinez said. “When I’m watching the video, I’m specifically watching one thing that I want to see.

“So when I’m watching a game on TV it’s hard for me really to see what’s going on in a broader spectrum.

“When I’m actually in the game and managing, I get to see so many different other things, and you put yourself in a situation like — for me every day I’m scouting, and I’m looking at different things, watching different players, watching not only our players, but other players that are on other teams, and what they do. A lot of times when you’re 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’s something else that you might be able to pick up when you’re watching it live, and seeing it in person, and really watching it as it progresses and how it goes on and see how the guys interact or how the guys act, because that’s a big part of it.

“Not only do we look for the best players we could possibly get, but we also look for character, and how they fit in and their chemistry. So, when you do that, scouts are looking, they’re watching him in the dugout, they’re watching them how they run to the field, or after a strikeout, sometimes that stuff all gets cut off when you’re watching on TV or video, so I think it’s important that you have scouts in the seats and watching these different things.”

But they don’t this season, of course, so we’ll see how, if at all, that affects the Nationals’ decision-making process.

UNIQUE, ONE-MONTH RENTALS, ETC.:

“The trade deadline is going to be very, very unique. It’s for a very small amount of games you’re going to get the player at the trade deadline. Usually when you get it July 31st, you get it through August, through September, and the playoffs,” Rizzo explained.

“Now you’re going to get them through September and the playoff run, so it’s going to be interesting to me to see how much action there really is. To give away a good prospect or two for a rental player this year for about 25-27 games in the regular season to get you in the playoffs and then for the playoff tournament, is something that’s going to be unique to the process. How many prospects can you give up for that short period of time for a rental player? So, we’re going to evaluate where we’re at with the ballclub and our needs, and I think it will be determined by the health of players, where our holes are and what are needs are, but the health of Howie Kendrick and those types of guys are something that would really dictate how we attack this thing.”

“To go back to our starting pitching, our starting pitching in the minor leagues is one of our depth spots. Down in Fredericksburg, [Virginia] alone we’ve got four or five young, hungry starters that we would not feel uncomfortable going reaching and grabbing those guys and bringing them to the big leagues.”

LAST MINUTE-ISH NOTES/APPROACH AND STUFF:

Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past Wednesday that as usual, the Nats will take an aggressive approach to any potential deals and additions or subtractions at the deadline.

“I think we’re going to attack this trade deadline like we do most others. Opportunity arises, we’ll be aggressive. Things make sense for us, I think we’ll certainly be active in the market. But if it’s something that if there’s nothing there that we don’t like and it doesn’t work for us, then we’ll be a little bit more passive,” Rizzo said.

“We’re planning on being aggressive and trying to improve the club any way we can, which has been kind of our model for the last eight or nine years or so.”

In a humorous follow-up, one of the Junkies asked Rizzo if there was a particular GM around the league that he knew he could fleece whenever there was a deal to be made, which, he’s not going to admit to, of course, even if there is one, but he did say that his approach really is to try to make deals that are beneficial for both sides so that there are opportunities to do more deals in the future.

“Often times when you’re working these trades at the trade deadline, you’re in kind of a situation that the other team is in the polar opposite scenario as you are.

‘Okay, we’re going for it,’ and the other team is rebuilding, and that’s kind of the way that you do a deal.”

“I never think about winning the deal. The best deals I’ve ever done — when both teams get what they want, because that’s good for repeat business and the GM can trust you the next time you do a deal.

“So I like deals that work out for both teams in the way they want it to and fit into their long-term plans.

“That’s kind of the way I attack the trade deadline and dealing with the other GMs in the game.”

CONTROL BIG AS ALWAYS? MORE RENTAL TALK:

Rizzo likes young, controllable talent, always has, probably always will, but if others in the league are hesitant to trade young, controllable talent for a one-month+ rental? Rizzo said that’s where he’s at right now, so others probably will be too.

“There would be less incentive for me to go after a rental since we’d have him about a month and then the playoffs, but again, if the right scenario is dictated by who you have to give up, what’s the acquisition cost, and that type of thing. You can’t rule anything out. We’ve made deals in certain years where we’ve gone for control of a player, we also have gone after some rentals some seasons. Each team and each season dictates a different kind of plan of attack and aggressiveness, and I think that we’ve got a plan pretty well in place right now, we’ve got till Monday to see how we implement that plan and see if we can improve ourselves.”

MARTINEZ’S TAKE ON THIS WHOLE TRADE DEADLINE DEAL:

Davey Martinez was asked before Sunday’s series finale with the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park where things stood a day before the deadline, and he said he knew the front office in D.C. was hard at work and weighing their options trying to decide what they will do before tomorrow afternoon, while he’s focused on the players the Nationals have now.

“For me it’s — I always say you work, you do the best you can with the players that you have, Rizzo and his group up there, they’re always looking to make us better.

“I know they’re looking now. We picked up Brock Holt, which I think is going to be a good addition for us for this final stretch here.

“They’re always looking. If we end up getting a deal where we think it’s going to help us in the long-run, I’m sure, Rizz — Rizz is not afraid to pull the trigger. With that being said, it is different, it’s one month that you’re getting a player for, unless you get a guy where he’s going to have a multi-year contract, or you’re trying to do something big, but I don’t foresee us doing that right now. I like the guys we got, we got to keep playing hard.”

A reporter wondered if this situation was akin to the one the Nationals found themselves in back in 2018, Martinez’s first season on the bench, when they were hanging around, close enough to make them think about how to approach the deadline. While the Nationals are in last place in the NL East right now, no one thinks they’re out of contention, with expanded playoffs, so what will they do?

“Every day we come to the ballpark, I always feel good about the guys that are playing, the lineup,” Martinez said.

“Yesterday, a perfect example, we hit the ball really hard, these guys are swinging the bats well.

“Hopefully the hits will go our way today, we score some runs and we win the game, but the guys that we have, I have the utmost confidence in these guys that they’ll start clicking, we’ll start consistently winning more games. I feel good about where we’re at. Our starting pitching is starting to pitch better.

“Max [Scherzer] is doing well, [Patrick] Corbin is pitching well, [Aníbal] Sánchez is figuring it out. We get [Austin] Voth today, and hopefully he does his thing today, so but we just got to keep plugging away.

“My biggest fear, sometimes, you hear the rumblings with the players this time of year, whenever there’s a trade deadline, are they going to get traded? Where are they going? What’s going to happen?

“It’s part of it, but you hear it, and you’ve just got to tell them, ‘Hey, you’re here, you’re with the Nationals, I love you here, just go out there and play hard, and only control what you can control.”

Let Rizzo and Co. do the rest, if they actually do anything today, which they will if, you know, the right deal is there...

The 2020 Trade Deadline is at 4:00 PM ET today. The Nationals and Phillies play at 7:05 PM ET in Citizens Bank Park.