WASHINGTON -- There at the end of his press conference was a clue from Mike Rizzo. This year was different because of the new, singular trade deadline. But it was also different because of cost-control edicts from above and a shallow talent pool below.
"What limits who you can target is what you want to give up for the player and what they're making," Rizzo said. "So yeah, [Competitive Balance Tax] limited us to an extent. The fact that we gave up nobody in our top-20 prospect list was important to us. We stayed under the CBT, which was important to us. But most important was that we've improved our baseball team with three really good relief pitchers, two of them that we control for the long haul. And it shows the guys in that room that we appreciate how we've been playing, and we see you, we believe it, and we're all in it for the long haul."
That acronym -- CBT -- has been looming over the organization since Game 162 ended last season and Bryce Harper became a free agent. Washington's ownership was focused on not exceeding the "luxury tax" threshold for the third consecutive year because it would mean a 50 percent tax on every dollar spent over the final mark of $206 million. For instance, if the Nationals' payroll exceeded $206 million by $4 million, they would be assessed an extra tax of $2 million. If they stay under, the penalty system resets.
That's a challenging way for a GM to do business at the trade deadline. Money was an object just as much as the physical cost-benefit analysis of bringing in Player X and sending out Player Y. There was no doubt the Nationals had to do something to fix their bullpen problems. Yet, Rizzo was able to wade through these restrictions and acquire three new relievers. None have the ceiling or panache of Shane Greene and Chris Martin, both acquired by Atlanta, but all have a shot to make things better. It's just limited and may not sufficiently move the needle for Washington.
"It was a busy and productive day for us, I think we've upgraded our bullpen," Rizzo said. "These aren't the sexiest names in the trade market but we think we got good quality, reliable guys with some moxie and some experience."
Suppressing the process beyond the CBT and minor-league options to choose from was the new trade deadline (no more August trades). Rizzo called it "made for TV" and suggested Major League Baseball was able to get what it wanted via a last-second flurry of moves. He also did not seem thrilled with the concept's stagnation of trades before the deadline hit.
"In the past, we've done deals early in the period and it was almost on deaf ears [this time]," Rizzo said. "I think people wanted to wait until the deadline, there were a few deals done days in advance, I think, but we've done it often times weeks and months in advance and I think it really did curtail that type of discussion."
Which meant Rizzo was left to operate Wednesday pinned in on three sides: he couldn't spend a lot of money, he couldn't afford to use a higher-end prospect for a shinier bullpen piece, and no one wanted to deal weeks ago when he -- and everyone else -- knew the Nationals needed help. So, that left the final hours Wednesday to find solutions. Three new guys are in. At a minimum, it's change. But it may not be enough.
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