The Major League Baseball trade deadline is an annual adventure -- a burst of strategy and intrigue during the dog days of summer. For teams with playoff aspirations, it's an opportunity to make a bold move and add a needed piece that can put you over the top. For teams with diminishing hopes, it's a chance to get some extra value in trades or dump salaries that can be put to better use next year.
The Washington Nationals found themselves in an unfamiliar position as the July 31 deadline approached. Sitting in first place in the rugged NL East, with only the Atlanta Braves within 10 games in the standings, the Nats could be buyers instead of sellers for the first time since the franchise arrived in D.C. The rise of the team was ahead of schedule, and Washington could suddenly daydream about the tantalizing possibility of a playoff game -- the first in the city since the Senators played in the World Series in 1933.
The Nationals were faced with a rare and special opportunity. Would they pull the trigger on a big move?
July 31 came and went with no blockbuster announcement, no deal at all. The Nats' only move of the day was to call up bench player Chad Tracy from a minor league rehab assignment. Not exactly headline material.
There are still opportunities to nab players after the deadline passes, as the Nats showed by claiming C Kurt Suzuki off of waivers and then making a deal to acquire him from the Oakland A's. That move bolsters a position that's been desperately ravaged by injuries.
But at the trade deadline, the Nationals opted not to make a move, and it was the right decision. While there's no question that some teams in some years warrant trade deadline deals, it's not always necessary, despite the increased media- and fan-driven focus on the deadline. For the Nats, they're a young, balanced ballclub that had already made good moves in the offseason and might just be ready to climb to the top and stay there for the long-haul. That's not to say they're a perfect team in 2012, but there was no need to sacrifice the future in order to patch any particular hole.
Help on the Way
Could the line-up use another bat? Sure, but slugger Jayson Werth was just about ready to come off the DL. Once Stephen Strasburg gets shut down -- a debate for another day -- could the rotation use another frontline starter? Of course, but veteran John Lannan was ready and waiting in AAA, and he's proven he can still deliver with a pair of impressive starts when called up.
So it seems reasonable -- even if surprising -- that the Nats didn't need to make a move. The team looks solid, and there's no need to sacrifice a promising future. There's still a full two months to go in the 2012 season, so time will tell if the Nats can make it to the playoffs with the roster they have or if they'll fall short. But fans and the team can feel cautiously optimistic as we head down the home stretch.
It's a very fine line -- you want the team to keep the long-term in focus, but you never want to miss a near-term opportunity that might not repeat itself. Given the circumstances, the team got it right -- the best move was to do nothing at all.
KW Rosenfeld is a lifelong baseball fan who visited every major league ballpark in the summer of 1991. A longtime resident of Northern Virginia, he's still thankful that baseball has returned to D.C.