July 31, 2009

Dealing at Gunpoint

If the Nats don't deal Nick Johnson and Josh Willingham by 4 pm today they'll never be good in our lifetimes.

That my be the dumbest thing I've written in 4 years of blogging the Nats (feel free to slog through the archives to confirm) but it's also the prevailing sentiment across the Natmosphere. If that feels familiar, it's because that's been the prevailing sentiment every July 31st since Bowden didn't move Alfonso Soriano to Minnesota for P Kevin Slowey and OF/DH Jason Kubel. (I assume FJB would have approved that deal because it obviated the need for the Olsen/Willingham trade two years later.) Nats fans have gotten pretty good at seeing doom in the failure to move every marginally tradeable player.

Now, because other teams have gotten good hauls for Cliff Lee, Matt Holliday, Freddy Sanchez and George Sherrill, it stands to reason that the Nats are once again suckers for "sitting out" the trading action. Nevermind that the Nats don't have a Lee, Holliday, Sanchez or Sherrill (or for that matter an Adam LaRoche, Ryan Garko, Jack Wilson or Tony Pena.) The Nats should be out there giving away players for something, anything, because gosh darnit they're just terrible and the only way to get better is the Twins/Marlins/A's approach of churning veterans for prospects.

I've been accused of making excuses for the front office because I honestly believe that the trade deadline, for all the rumors, innuendo and supposition, is a black box and you can only evaluate the deals that were made, not the deals that never came together. That's not to say that GMs can't screw up. Dmitri Young should have been traded at the deadline in '07. If Mike Rizzo is running around telling people that Josh Willingham is untouchable, that's just, to quote our President "stupid." If, on the other hand, Rizzo is asking for a "Matt Holliday-lite" package and just not getting it, that's just good GMing. Players are happy to take advantage of career years, GMs should too.

Nick Johnson is an entirely different case. A potential free agent with a medical history longer than his stat sheet, Nick has seen both his power and his defense decline this summer. Yes he still gets on base and hits for average, but he's looking more and more like Sean Casey every day. Nats fans like to remember Nick as he was in 2005/06, but opposing GMs are looking at a two-month rental of OBP and a left-handed bench bat. Still, there comes a point when the best offer out there simply ain't good enough. Ryan Tucker? Aaron Thompson? They may have nice pedigrees, but the numbers are less than impressive. With no heir apparent at 1B (Adam Dunn is not an option on a serious team) I'd rather give Nick the two year deal he wants and hope that one of the kids comes through in time for 2011.

Deal Joe Beimel and Willie Harris. This team has a solid history of turning relievers (Stanton, Rauch, Ayala) and bench bats (Daryle Ward, Marlon Anderson) into interesting, marginally useful prospects. But spare me the hysterics if Johnson, Willingham and Dunn are all still here tomorrow morning.

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