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January 17, 2013
Washington's Winning Way with Trades
Draft well, scout well internationally, develop players well, and when the time is absolutely right, go all in for that big free agent—the last piece of your World Series champions. Or at least the last piece of the best team in baseball that will still have to win three near-coin-flip series to lift the hardware.
You watch teams like the Astros trying to emulate this plan to get to the top, and meanwhile, you observe the Nationals following through on it with the addition of Rafael Soriano to an already loaded bullpen. It’s a move of luxury, not necessity, the final component of what is arguably baseball’s best team.
Yet there is a step missing in that narrative when it comes to Mike Rizzo’s meticulous construction of the Nationals.
Yes, they drafted well, from the gimme no. 1 overall picks in Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg to the other stars in the Zimmerman(n) brothers to the outstanding middle infield combination of Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond, both third-round picks. And they have gone beyond their usual Expo ways in acquiring Jayson Werth and Soriano in the last three seasons and giving a contract to free agent Adam LaRoche when they could have cut costs and settled for in-house option Mike Morse.
But in the middle of those two stories is a 2013 Nationals roster that was built largely through trades that have benefited the club greatly.
It’s not a story of perfection. When Werth was acquired in 2011, the Nationals went with the pretty awful outfield of Laynce Nix, Rick Ankiel, and Werth, trading away Josh Willingham and Nyjer Morgan in loser deals while watching them both go on to have very strong years. And you could argue that Joel Hanrahan would have prevented Wednesday’s splurge, but Morgan and Sean Burnett was not a bad package.
The helpful deals, more numerous, are an inescapable part of the story of the 2013 Nationals, who had the best record in baseball last year and probably got better this winter.
July 31, 2009: Received Ryan Mattheus and Robinson Fabian from Colorado for Joe Beimel
Beyond a pretty good groundball rate, his peripherals aren’t all that reassuring, though they’re better when you take out the eight intentional walks and credit him for 26 walks and 53 strikeouts in 98 1/3 career innings, all in 2011 and 2012. But considering Beimel was released by his third post-Washington team last spring and sent to the Tommy John operating table, the Nationals will take their chances with a fine option for slightly lower-leverage spots as the bullpen solidifies ahead of Mattheus.
June 28, 2009: Received Michael Morse from Seattle for Ryan Langerhans
The salaries haven’t been even since Langerhans was non-tendered the winter after the trade (he’s been on a series of split contracts since). But an additional four wins for the additional $3-4 million that Morse has made is a trade you’d take any time.
Actually, the two seem surprisingly close in value considering the perception of a heist, and much of that is attributable to Morse’s defensive value, which is consistently negative across metrics. He’s probably not an outfielder even if Seattle sees him that way, but more power to the Nationals if they sold him as one.
Nov. 29, 2012: Received Denard Span from the Twins for Alex Meyer
Faced with the option of keeping center field in house with Harper slotting in between Werth and Morse or going out and getting that big free agent—the Scott Boras-represented Michael Bourn—the Nationals did neither. Their best option was a trade—yet another one that has contributed to their current status as the National League’s best-positioned team.