David DeJesus debuts as a National, but his status is confusing

August 20, 2013
Dioner Navarro pats David DeJesus on the head in his first Nationals at-bat. (Brian Kersey/AP)
Dioner Navarro pats David DeJesus on the head in his first Nationals at-bat. (Brian Kersey/AP)

David DeJesus stepped into the batter’s box with two outs in the eighth inning on Monday night at Wrigley Field. Manager Davey Johnson had called on him to pinch hit and make his Nationals debut before the fans he had played in front of for nearly two years.

It was a surreal feeling for DeJesus, a veteran outfielder who literally switched sides on Monday afternoon after being moved from one clubhouse to the other in the surprising late-season trade. The Nationals acquired him in a trade with the Cubs after they placed a waiver claim for him after the July 31 non-waiver deadline. But on Monday night, according to a Fox Sports report, DeJesus was again placed on revocable trade waivers by the Nationals. Why? More on that later.

As DeJesus stepped up to the plate, he was showered with applause and given a standing ovation by fans. He wasn’t sure how to respond, so he tipped his helmet to them. He was shaking from emotion so he stepped out of the box to compose himself.

“It was an honor getting that reaction from the fans,” he said after the game and at-bat, in which he popped out. “They respected the way I went out there and approached my job every day.”

Catcher Dioner Navarro patted DeJesus on the helmet.

“He was like, ‘Hey, kid,’” DeJesus said. “Cause I always say ‘kid.’ He said, ‘Hey, kid, it was great playing with you. I love you.’ He’s awesome. He’s a great dude. It was an honor playing with all those guys.”

DeJesus took the field in the ninth inning, manning center field, a position he occupied often for the Cubs this season. But how often would DeJesus be playing for the Nationals? His placement on waivers muddles his situation.

Many major league players, even ones who don’t seem like trade targets, are placed on revocable trade waivers after the July 31 deadline. Once a player clears waivers, the team is free to trade that player to any other team, just like they would before the July 31 deadline. But if another team places a waiver claim on that player, the two teams cans discuss a trade. If the holding team decides they don’t like the trade offer or for whatever other reason, they can pull that player back. For example, Dan Haren was reportedly placed on waivers and cleared them last week.

So what is going on with DeJesus? First of all, the timing of his trade was interesting. General Manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals had eyed DeJesus before the trade deadline and nothing came of it. After the deadline, the Nationals placed a waiver claim on DeJesus and then came the Monday trade. The Nationals are sending a player to be named later to the Cubs in the deal. Roger Bernadina was released to make room on the roster.

Rizzo said DeJesus would improve the left-handed hitting on the Nationals bench. Given his hitting this season and success against right-handed pitching, DeJesus and his .732 OPS certainly seems like he would. He, however, isn’t cheap. DeJesus is owed $4.25 million this season but only about $1 million for the remainder of the season. DeJesus has a $6.5 million 2014 team option with a $1.5 million buyout.

Rizzo declined to say how much of DeJesus’ salary the Nationals were assuming. If the Nationals are taking on all of DeJesus’ obligations, the Nationals could be on the hook for a minimum of $2.5 million — $1 million this season and the $1.5 million buyout. Given the outfield composition now, it’s hard to see the Nationals picking up DeJesus’ $6.5 million option. That’s a lot for a fourth outfielder. The cash-shedding and rebuilding Cubs also indicated they would be winning to bring DeJesus back next season, but likely only if his buyout is picked up by another team.

Are the Nationals trying to shed DeJesus’ salary already? Did the Nationals make a mistaken waiver claim? Were the Nationals trying to block a rival team from placing a waiver claim on DeJesus? After a player is placed on waivers — which is a confidential process – there is a specific order to who can claim him. It begins with the team with the worst record in the same league, in this case the Miami Marlins, and ends with the team with best record, the Atlanta Braves. If no team claims the player, the same process repeats for the other league.

Rizzo said on Monday that he still believes in the Nationals have a run in them. It would be certainly be an improbable one. Improving the bench was a target at the trade deadline, and he already made moves to do so, such as acquiring Scott Hairston and sending Tyler Moore to the minors. So adding DeJesus seems to make sense. So maybe the Nationals placed DeJesus on waivers to protect themselves and give themselves flexibility should they sink further in the wild-card standings and can send him to a contender.

Even Manager Davey Johnson was surprised by the DeJesus trade. He had been more concerned with finding playing time for younger players, like Moore.

“[DeJesus] doesn’t have anything he needs to prove to me,” Johnson said. “I’m sure that he wants to play. But [Bryce] Harper needs to play, most definitely. [Jayson] Werth is having an outstanding season. [Denard] Span is doing a great job defensively, his bat is picking up. I’m more concerned, with where we’re at in the standings, getting the young guys more at-bats than some of the veteran-type players.”

Opposing teams have 48 hours to place a waiver claim on DeJesus. So on Wednesday, the Nationals will learn if DeJesus cleared waivers and more clarity will be shed on this confusing situation.

Nats acquire DeJesus from Cubs, release Bernadina

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James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · August 20, 2013