Should the Nationals make a trade to replace Ryan Zimmerman?

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

brushback_harperThe Nationals are good enough to win the World Series this year, right now, and the number of seasons that will remain true is inherently limited. In the wake of Ryan Zimmerman’s strained right hamstring, those two principles should guide the Nationals at the trade deadline.

The Nationals have built admirable depth, which has allowed them to weather constant injuries this year. But they need to think about relying on their backups now with Zimmerman on the disabled list, possibly for much longer than than the minimum 15 days. Manager Matt Williams said the Nationals “have to take a hard look at” adding an infielder with Zimmerman out, and he’s absolutely correct.

Given where the Nationals are stationed, both as a franchise and as a team, it’s hard to imagine wins ever holding more value for them. They have a one-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East with 63 games to go. They’re not running away like in 2012, when a win here or there would not have made any difference between a division title and a coin-flip shot at entry into the postseason through the wild-card game. Every win could decide their entire season.

And this season could be the Nationals’ strongest chance to win the World Series with the current core. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Doug Fister will be eligible for free agency after 2015. Jayson Werth has resisted baseball’s aging curve so far, but he will turn 36 in April. Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Wilson Ramos are under contractual control through 2016. The Nationals face a series of difficult choices and the potential disintegration, or at least partial breakup, of their current core.

But right now, they have emerged as the strongest contender in a weak National League. Would, say, Aaron Hill or Luis Valbuena playing over Danny Espinosa and Zach Walters during Zimmerman’s absence provide the difference between holding off the Braves and claiming a wild-card berth? It very well could, which is the argument for making a trade.

But then, General Manager Mike Rizzo views it as his duty not to allow such urgency to derail the Nationals’ larger plan. We’ve asserted that their position and the construction of their roster dictates that this season take precedence over years to come. Rizzo would reject the idea that an injury should alter their long-term outlook.

“I think you really have to resist the temptation to do that,” Rizzo said. “I always have to have a global view. I have a very focused view on today’s game. But I have to have a global view of the team and the organization. We have to be cognizant of the fact that we have to think about the long term. We put ourselves in this position by doing that. I think that we’re going to continue to do that. You can’t panic. You can’t do things for short-term gains that are going to harm you long term.”

Speaking late Wednesday morning, Rizzo seemed disinclined to pull the trigger on a major move.

“We’ve got a third baseman,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got Zim signed for a long time. We’re not worried about filling Zim’s shoes, which would be almost impossible to fill in a trade scenario, anyways. We like the team we have. We got where we’re at with Danny playing meaningful innings.”

It’s also fair to question how much value an upgrade would bring in the time frame it would be needed.  We need to know first how long Zimmerman will be out. Should he miss only a month, would a player like Hill, Valbuena or Martin Prado provide enough of a difference over Espinosa and Walters to justify the cost acquisition and the roster complications once Zimmerman returns?

By suggesting the Nationals consider a trade before next Thursday’s deadline, Williams in no way dismissed what the Nationals already have in-house. He has spoken since the winter about how crucial Espinosa is to the Nationals. Espinosa provides elite defense at second base, and as a right-handed batter he has hit .271/.363/.457 in 80 plate appearance this year. In 227 plate appearances as a left-handed batter at Class AAA Syracuse, Walters has hit .263/.330/.551. They could form an adequate, if not better, platoon.

“I trust every guy in this room and in our organization,” Zimmerman said. “I think a lot of guys on our Triple A team would be on a lot of big league teams. That’s basically like a trade, I guess you could say. We have talented guys down there that can make an impact on this level. We have talented guys on this team, too, that haven’t had a chance to play much lately because all of us have been healthy. I think they’ll take advantage of it.”

The title of this blog post is a question, so it should contain an answer. That’s what’s tricky about the trade deadline, though. Every scenario can only be evaluated if you know the specifics of a proposal, what is being gained and what is being lost.

 

The Nationals shouldn’t make an overly painful deal to replace Zimmerman. And Rizzo has a point: You can talk yourself into believing every current season is the most important season, and that can put an organization in trouble down the road.

But this season, right now, provides a set of unique circumstances. The Nationals are in a close division race. They have one of the best teams they might have in their current window. They suffered an injury to one of their best players, whom they can fill in for but not reliably replace with what they have. They can win the World Series, and it may take one or two wins to ensure passage to the postseason.

The Nationals shouldn’t make a bad trade just to make a trade. But they should certainly try to make one.  They can win the World Series, and that will not always be the case. Nothing matters more than that.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals had plenty of regrets after their rally fell short in a 6-4 loss to the Rockies.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Barrett explains his standoff

Werth rests sore knee

Zimmerman on DL with hamstring strain

Zimmermann returns

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 5, Buffalo 0: A.J. Cole allowed no runs in seven innings on three hits and no walks, striking out six. Matt Grace allowed no runs in two relief innings on one hit and one walk, striking out two. Emmanuel Burriss went 1 for 5 with a homer. Steven Souza Jr. went 2 for 5 with a double and his 22nd stolen base.

Bowie 6, Harrisburg 4: Michael Taylor went 2 for 3 with a homer, his 21st this season, two walks and a steal, his 30th. Matt Skole went 1 for 3 with a walk. John Simms allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings on eight hits and one walk, striking out four.

Winston-Salem 9, Potomac 4:  Shawn Pleffner went 3 for 4 with a double and a walk. Stephen Perez went 2 for 5. Austin Voth allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings on six hits and two walks, striking out four and raising his Carolina League ERA to 1.43.

Kannapolis 6, Hagerstown 2: Wilmer Difo went 2 for 4 with a triple. Nick Pivetta allowed four runs in four innings on four hits and three walks, striking out four.

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