The two trades the Nationals finalized today did not exactly qualify as earth-shattering. In Kurt Suzuki, they dealt a popular teammate who had become a backup catcher. In David DeJesus, they flipped a platoon-type outfielder who had been with the team for two days. The deals netted a pair of 22-year-old minor league pitchers, one of whom has yet to be identified. You could save the 72-point headlines.
Still, the moves were meaningful in many ways, with tentacles stretching in many different directions to a number of people. Here is a rundown of how, in the form of to whom, the Nationals’ two trades mattered.
On Monday, the Nationals’ claim of DeJesus raised plenty of eye brows. The Nationals had fallen out of the postseason chase by any realistic measure, and now they were adding a bench piece?
While Rizzo said he would not have minded keeping DeJesus, he anticipated all along he would be able to flip him for a prospect. DeJesus’s four-day tenure with the Nationals was strange, but it was planned.
In the end, the Nationals turned Roger Bernadina’s roster spot, four days of DeJesus’s salary – about $104,000 – and some spare cash into one of two 22-year-old pitching prospects from the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a pretty nifty trick.
“Whenever you can net a good, young 22-year-old controllable guy, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Rizzo said. “It’s acquiring depth. It’s acquiring these good young players. It’s acquiring assets. That’s really the reason you utilize your positioning on the waiver wire.
“Waiver-wire strategy is an important part of roster construction. We strategically have claimed many, many players in this trade deadline period and have had many, many players claimed from us. It’s a strategy that we employ. It’s a strategy of player acquisition. You have to have a strategy and a plan. We had one in this particular case. We thought that David is a guy we really like his skill set as a player. We like the makeup. We like the character. If we were to keep him, I think he would have fit well on this team this year and beyond. We also thought that to acquire a young, projectable player, it just adds to our depth and builds what we’re trying to do.”
Rizzo did not rule out trying to acquire DeJesus again. The Rays will almost certainly decline the $6 million option they hold for DeJesus in 2014. If he becomes a free agent, the Nationals will “most definitely” try to sign him, Rizzo said. He told DeJesus as much when they spoke this morning.
The Nationals have viewed Ramos as part of their franchise bedrock and the catcher of their future since they traded for him in 2010. Injuries interrupted the process, but now with Suzuki out of the picture Ramos is without any question the Nationals’ No. 1 catcher.
The Nationals are not going anywhere barring a miraculous September, and so dealing Suzuki, whose contract will expire at the end of the season, could have been expected no matter Ramos’s health status. But still, in dealing Suzuki the Nationals gave a vote of confidence to Ramos and his health.
“I know I can play every day,” Ramos said. “Right now, it feels great. I need to be healthy first. I know I can do this job. I can play every day. Right now, I have to worry more about trying to be healthy.”
Ramos underwent major surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee last year. This season, two left hamstring stains sent him to the disabled list for a combined 65 games. But since he returned July 4, Ramos has been a force. While handling the pitching staff with aplomb, Ramos has hit .308/.331/.500 with 25 RBI and six homers in 31 starts.
“Ramos is a horse,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Now that he’s healthy, he’s even said to me, ‘I don’t need to rest these days games. Let me go.’ I’m basically going to pencil his name every time.”
“Wilson has really taken over that everyday spot,” Rizzo said. “He wants to be that guy who plays each and every game. We have Solano as a very, very capable major league player. We thought it was a good opportunity for us to forego four weeks or so of Suzuki and get ourselves a prospect out of it.”
Friday afternoon, Solano and reliever Xavier Cedeno, both from Class AAA Syracuse, rolled their equipment bags into Kaufmann Stadium. They boarded the elevator going down to the clubhouse alongside another tall man. He stuck his hand out and said, “George Brett. Where’d you guys come from?”
“Ooooh!” Solano said later. “I said, ‘Oh, jeez.’ ”
Solano, 28, has had several cups of coffee over the past two years, but he has never received a chance like he has now. With Suzuki out of the picture, he knows he can stake a claim on the backup catcher spot on for opening day 2014. He can be a big leaguer all of next season, and the chance will start in the final month.
“He’s going to have every opportunity to do so,” Rizzo said. “We’ve liked him for a long time. His skill set really fits what we’re trying to do here. He’s one of our own. He really knows the Nationals’ way of doing things and knows the whole pitching staff.”
Before yesterday, when Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley scratched him from the lineup and told him to hold tight, Solano had hoped for a September call-up. Now he’s the Nationals’ backup catcher and has a chance to earn the same role next season.
“I’ve got this opportunity right now,” Solano said. “I have to show what I got. It depends how I play, whatever they got planned for next year. It’s a good opportunity. I have to take it.”
We do not yet know which 22-year-old pitcher the Nationals received in return for DeJesus. In return for Suzuki, the A’s shipped Bacus to the Nationals. Bacus was picked in the ninth round in 2012 out of Indiana State. In his two-year career, Bacus has a 3.09 ERA in 44 games, 17 of which are starts. He’ll report to Class A Hagerstown. The A’s had made him a reliever, but the Nationals plan to convert him back into a starter.
“We had strong reports on him for the last three seasons,” Rizzo said. The Nationals have scouted him since he was at Indiana State.
Bacus also seems to have a goofy streak, evidenced by his time hiding in the outfield wall with the Class A Beloit Snappers.
Trading Suzuki was a tacit admission the Nationals are more focused on the future than the present. Given that they’re 9 ½ games out of the second wild card spot, that is the realistic stance.
Since Haren has passed through waivers and will become a free agent at the end of the year, that makes him a potential trade target for contenders in need of a starter. Rizzo said he’ll consider offers, but it will take a lot.
“We love Dan Haren,” Rizzo said. “He’s pitching extremely well for us. We would certainly listen. I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t. But we would have to get ourselves a good package of players to consider moving him.”
Haren has been excellent since he came off the disabled list, posting a 2.16 ERA over 50 innings in eight starts and a closing cameo. He would prefer to stay in Washington and has not allowed his mind to stray toward trade possibilities.
“I want to stay here,” Haren said. “I don’t think anyone has really given up hope. Of course I don’t want to leave at this point. We still can have a run left in us.
“I really haven’t thought about that. I’m more worried on day-to-day things. I’m worried about [his next start] Sunday. Whatever happens, happens. It’s really out of my control. There’s no use worrying about it.”
Despite not feeling as good as usual following his last start, Haren will start as scheduled Sunday. “That was never really a question,” Haren said.