KANSAS CITY — The two trades came together in different ways, but both accomplished the same goal for the Washington Nationals. On Friday, the Nationals shipped backup Kurt Suzuki back to the Oakland A’s, a contender in need of a catcher, and flipped outfielder/temporary vagabond David DeJesus to the Tampa Bay Rays. The dissimilar deals, one traditional and one born of creative strategy, each netted the Nationals a minor league pitcher.
Suzuki had been with the Nationals for more than a year, and the departure of an energetic, popular teammate led to surprise and sadness inside the Nationals’ clubhouse. It also gave the Nationals right-hander Dakota Bacus, a 22-year-old with a 3.56 ERA this year whom the Nationals sent to Class A Hagerstown.
DeJesus had been with the Nationals since Monday, and his brief tenure requires an explanation. The Nationals claimed DeJesus off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on Monday. They cut ties with outfielder Roger Bernadina, who did not fit into the Nationals’ future plans, to make room on the roster.
The Nationals’ place in the standings enabled them to put in the first claim on DeJesus, and they anticipated American League contenders would be interested in his services. The Cubs could deal only with the Nationals, and the Nationals offered only cash and the promise of salary relief for DeJesus, who was owed roughly $2.5 million the rest of the season, including a buyout.
General Manager Mike Rizzo “is a smart man,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He knew when he got the first claim in, there were a lot of other claims. He felt like he could get a player.”
Rizzo would not have hated keeping DeJesus on the roster, but he believed he could leverage a prospect out of their waiver-wire position. The Nationals put DeJesus on waivers, and when the Rays claimed him Tuesday, the Nationals had a chance.
Before Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline, the Nationals and Rays decided on a deal. The Rays would get DeJesus and pay his salary. The Nationals will get their choice between two 22-year-old minor league pitchers. The Nationals summoned lefty reliever Xavier Cedeno from Class AAA Syracuse to take DeJesus’s spot on the roster.
In the end, the Nationals turned Bernadina’s roster spot, four days of DeJesus’s salary – about $104,000 — and some spare cash into a 22-year-old pitching prospect from the Tampa Bay Rays.
“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.”
They more permanently cut ties with Suzuki, who joined the Nationals on Aug. 3 last season and become a significant cog in their march to the NL East title. Suzuki had become a backup to Wilson Ramos, who has fully healed from 2012 right knee surgery and from two left hamstring strains this season.
“Wilson has really taken over that everyday spot,” Rizzo said. “He wants to be that guy who plays each and every game. We have [backup Jhonatan] 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.”
Rizzo informed Suzuki he had been traded as the Nationals’ team bus drove from Wrigley Field to the airport Thursday afternoon. Suzuki boarded the team plane to say goodbye to teammates, then left. “It was pretty cool,” Rizzo said. “It was touching, and it was pretty emotional.”
“We were all pretty surprised,” starter Dan Haren said. “The way that Wilson was playing, the playing time wasn’t there for him. It’s a good situation he’s going to, in the thick of a playoff race.”
The trade “shocked” Suzuki, he said, but he savored the chance to return to Oakland, where he played for 51 / 2 seasons. He joined the A’s, who entered Friday 21 / 2 games out of first in the AL West, in Baltimore. He spent part of Friday afternoon searching for green-and-gold spikes.
“It’s bittersweet,” Suzuki said. “I wouldn’t say I’m glad for a change of scenery. I enjoyed my time there. But send me to a place with a chance to win, I’m all in.”
Suzuki’s departure also opened the door for Solano to claim the job backing up Ramos next year. Rizzo said Solano is “going to have every opportunity to do so.”
“I have to show what I got,” Solano said. “It depends how I play, whatever they got planned for next year. It’s a good opportunity. I have to take it.”
Chelsea Janes contributed to this report from Baltimore.