The Washington Nationals know changes are coming. When GM Mike Rizzo talked earlier this month about preparing dual paths in his approach to MLB’s July 30th trade deadline, the General Manager and President of Baseball Operations in the nation’s capital said he would determine which path to take based on how the club played over the intervening weeks leading up to the deadline.
“We still have some games to play before we make those kind of decisions, but I think a dual path is probably the most advantageous for us right now,” Rizzo explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“We’ll have our lines in the water on the buy side. We’ll also prepare some type of sell scenario if we have to. But we’re looking forward to playing better baseball for the next two weeks and see if we can creep closer to the New York Mets and see if we can make some noise in the National League East.”
Since that day (July 21st), the Nationals were 0-5 going into the second of four this week in Philadelphia, and they entered play last night 8.5 games back, in 4th place in the NL East, and 11.5 back in the Wild Card race.
Back-to-back walk-off losses in the last two games only added to the frustration in the Nats’ clubhouse, 99, and after last night’s matchup, 100 games, into the 2021 season.
“[With] tough losses of course the mood is going to be a little dismal right now,” manager Davey Martinez said after closer Brad Hand blew a lead in the ninth in the second straight game on Monday night. “Because we just lost another tough game, but like I always tell these guys, you’ve got 30-45 minutes to think about the game, and then after that, let it go, like I said, we got another game tomorrow. Put that one behind you, there’s nothing you can do about it now, so let’s focus on getting a good night’s sleep and playing and going 1-0 tomorrow.”
Though they’re all talking about it in a professional way, knowing what they have to do and knowing that they’ll keep going out and winning games, the writing is on the wall with just three days remaining before the deadline and plenty of chatter out there about who is and isn’t available for other teams looking to bolster their chances at making the postseason.
For the Nationals, according to Fangraphs, as of Tuesday afternoon, they were down to a 0.7% chance of making it to the postseason.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’re all professionals,” Hand said when asked about trying to block out the chatter surrounding the team. “I mean, we show up to a ballpark trying to win a ballgame today. What happens at the end of the day is out of our control. All we can do is try to win a ballgame today, and try not to think about it. I think for me, I don’t really think about it, I’ve been traded before, so whatever happens at the end of the day, it’s out of my [hands], so just go out there and try to win the ballgame today and that’s the kind of attitude that we have.”
For Josh Harrison, back on a 1-year/$1M deal in his second season with the club, who’s put up a .282/.358/.406 line with 19 doubles, two triples, and five home runs, and who could be one of the players moved to a team that could benefit from his skill set, it’s all part of the game hearing your name bandied about.
“I think that’s going to be a personal question for most people,” he said when asked if it can be a distraction, “... but at the end of the day guys that have been around this isn’t our first time around this time of season. It may be new for some guys, but the business is still the same, you’ve got to come ready to win a ballgame and let those things take care of themselves off the field, because at the end of the day you are where you are and you’ve got to bring it every day.”
Paolo Espino, a modest revelation this season, after working his way back to the majors for the first time since 2017 in 2020’s 60-game campaign, said that he and his teammates all know there’s plenty of baseball to play this season, and no reason they can’t get back to a better place than they’re in right now.
“I mean, I would say we still got a lot more baseball,” Espino said.
“I know we can come back. We’ve definitely got a great team, I know we can win some ballgames. I mean, I would say that we still have a pretty good chance, but yeah, other than that, I know there are some decisions that they need to make soon, but that’s out of my control. I probably won’t — I can’t get much into it, but I mean, I know we can win some ballgames. so hopefully we get on a good run and win some games.”
Ryan Zimmerman, the franchise’s first first round pick, playing in his 16th big league season after opting out in 2020, echoed Espino’s sentiments, explaining that all the trade talk is out of the players’ hands.
“That stuff ... is done by the front office and people that make those decisions,” Zimmerman said. “None of those decisions are made by us in the room, and I think it helps that we’re a veteran team as well. I think maybe some young teams think about that kind of stuff, but we honestly just go out and play and try to win each day, and that’s all we can do, we can only control kind of the things that we can control.”
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that buzz around the clubhouse,” Erick Fedde said after his start in Tuesday’s win over the Phillies. I think it’s just one of those things where, yeah, it’s going to be stressful, thinking about guys that you consider your really good friends that could be gone, but when it comes down to game time at 7:00 you got to put all that aside and just play, so I think it’s just something that once we get through this week it will be over and just right on to the next thing.”
And how about their manager? Martinez talked on Monday about how he dealt with hearing his name in trade rumors and the five actual trades in his 16-year career in the majors. He said it hit him hard at times because of the relationships he’d developed with teammates and the way he got invested in the teams he played for over the years, so how is he dealing with this all as a manager, knowing that some of the players on his roster right now might not be by the end of the week?
“I was waiting for one of you guys to ask that question,” Martinez said in Tuesday afternoon’s pregame Zoom call with reporters. “You know how I feel about these guys, a lot of us since I’ve been here, we go way back, we’ve won a championship together, so any one of these guys that do happen to get traded, it will be a sad moment, it really will, but you’ve always got to wish them the best. And unfortunately it’s part of the game, we all know that, we signed up for this, it happens. But if we do happen to trade somebody they all know that I’ll miss them dearly, and their teammates will miss them dearly, but they also know that we wish them the best as well.”