Nats shouldn’t mortgage the future, but the present isn’t enough


Closer Drew Storen, above, drew a lot of interest from other teams, but Washington General Manager Mike Rizzo opted not to deal him before the trade deadline. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

So it’s August, time once again to dodge tourists on the streets — I saw one Monday morning wearing a fur hat, complete with the head of some animal, no joke — and evaluate the Washington Nationals’ moves at the trade deadline.

Except there were no significant moves at the trade deadline; no everyday center fielder is winging his way to Washington. Ah, well, this will be quick, then.

Monday morning, the Nats were 51-56 with a .471 winning percentage. That is somewhat better than they were a year ago on the same date (46-58, .442), but they were in last place then, and in last place now. (And yes, it’s true that with their record, the Nats would not be in the cellar of any other division in baseball. But they are not in any other division.)

Last year and this, the Nats decided to play it safe at the trade deadline, keeping the youngsters who they hope will someday be young stars. And I’ve advocated patience with the Nats’ approach. There is no point in finding and developing talent and sending it elsewhere to blossom.

However, it’s also true that after last year’s trade deadline, the Nats went 23-35, finishing the season 69-93. If they have the same lackluster August and September, they will once again finish well below .500. How many sub-.500 cellar seasons will Nats fans have to endure before this club begins to look like a contender?

How many trade deadlines will pass with the Nats sitting on the sideline?

Fans thought this was the year the Nats showed marked improvement. But Stephen Strasburg had surgery and Jayson Werth isn’t hitting and Adam LaRoche injured his shoulder and Jim Riggleman walked away one day and . . . blah blah blah. There is always a reason the Nats need just one more year. Their small but loyal fan base is becoming increasingly restless and it’s hard to blame them.

Sunday’s trade deadline was eerily similar to last season’s. A year ago, at Nats Park, Adam Dunn anxiously watched the clock to see if he’d be dealt. He wasn’t, and I admit that I thought, and wrote, they should keep him. (They let him go after the season for a draft pick.) That day, the Nationals won on a ninth-inning walk-off homer by Ryan Zimmerman.

(Want a laugh? This was the lead story in The Post that day: “After 11 years chasing a Super Bowl win in Philly, McNabb says he’s ready to finish his quest in D.C.” What a difference a year makes.)

Little has changed for the Nats. Drew Storen was the one watching the clock Sunday at Nats Park, and once the deadline passed, he blew a save opportunity and then got the win on a walk-off single by Ian Desmond.

Storen, Desmond, reliever Tyler Clippard — these were some of the names mentioned in trade rumors before the deadline, but General Manager Mike Rizzo was not made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Apparently the Nats came close to a deal, but apparently Rizzo wasn’t satisfied with whatever he was offered. So other than a few smaller deals, such as the trade of Jason Marquis, the Nats stood pat.

Let me be clear: I’m happy the Nats didn’t trade Storen. He’s a great representative of the Nats on and off the field, he wants to play in Washington and he’s 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA and 26 saves. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I like Storen and that I’m biased. Rizzo likes him too, calling him a “cornerstone” of the Nats. Rizzo fielded a lot of queries about Storen; that means that Rizzo could and should have asked for the moon in return. Apparently no one was willing to part with it.

It’s easy for all of the armchair GMs, including me, to say, “They should [or shouldn’t] have traded ‘fill-in-the-blank’ ” — Dunn, Clippard, Storen, Desmond — but harder when you don’t know what might have been on the table. And the minute Rizzo starts giving away young talent such as Desmond or Storen for less than they’re worth, he gets a reputation as an easy touch and the Nats join the list of garage sale teams: Make me an offer — I just want to get rid of this stuff!

That said, the Nats are trying to build a contender, not laying a wine cellar. Waiting for some of these youngsters to mature a bit is all well and good, but The Plan calls for patience in a world that increasingly provides near-instant gratification.

The Nats have developed some good young talent; it may be time for Rizzo to part with some of it to get this team out of the NL East cellar and into contention before all that wine turns sour — along with the fan base.

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