There’s no need for the Washington Nationals to chase potential trades for high-profile hitters before Major League Baseball’s July 31 deadline.
The first-place club has enough offense to hold off the rest of the National League East. But if General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson hunger for more than a division title (and I know they do), the pitching-rich Nationals should double down on their strength and attempt to complete a blockbuster move: Trade for superstar starter Zack Greinke.
With one industry-rattling acquisition, the Nationals would make their boldest statement yet about the franchise’s win-now determination. By adding the ace right-hander to the game’s best staff, management would address several potential concerns — Stephen Strasburg’s pending early departure from the rotation chief among them — while building on Rizzo’s plan to transform Redskins country into a baseball town.
Greinke won the 2009 American League Cy Young Award with the Kansas City Royals and, at 9-2 with a 3.08 ERA, is having another all-star season for the Milwaukee Brewers, though NL Manager Tony La Russa left him off the squad.
As Nationals fans know, Greinke has some interesting history with the club. He actually rejected a trade in December 2010 that would have brought him to Washington for Danny Espinosa, Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen.
For the Nationals, it turned out their best trade was the one Greinke didn’t let them make.
Greinke figured the Brewers were closer to winning, which they were. Now, the Nationals own the best record in the NL, and the Brewers are 37-42, well back in the race for the wild card.
The Nationals shouldn’t part with their best prospects for Greinke, who can become a free agent after the season, but they should do more than kick the tires on him. If they could reach a deal with the Brewers by trading one top-tier player or multiple solid prospects, then it could be worth the gamble.
Also, Greinke is believed to be Atlanta’s top target. If you can improve while hurting a division rival in one stroke, make the deal.
One NL executive said the Brewers’ asking price for Greinke could be two elite prospects as well as a productive big leaguer. That price may be too steep for the Nationals.
Going big to get Greinke, however, would make as much sense as being cautious with a franchise pitcher in his first full season after Tommy John surgery.
Wisely, the Nationals plan to limit Strasburg’s innings as he continues to regain his form after undergoing the reconstructive elbow procedure in 2010. The thought of the all-star becoming stronger should be even scarier to opponents than his pinpoint 97-mph fastball.
Although the club hasn’t revealed Strasburg’s season-ending number, it figures to be somewhere in the 160-170 inning range. That means Strasburg probably would become a full-time spectator sometime in early-to-mid September. At that point, the Nationals could be on the verge of clinching a playoff berth — or still fighting for one.
Although there’s never a good moment for a team to lose its best pitcher, the timing of Strasburg’s shutdown could be as bad as it gets for the Nationals.
Fans, baseball writers and broadcasters have criticized the Nationals for their hard-line approach with Strasburg. The attacks on the franchise, however, are misguided.
The man who pioneered the procedure that was done on Strasburg’s elbow would have definitely endorsed Rizzo’s plan.
In 1974, renowned surgeon Frank Jobe first performed the career-saving surgery on former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John. On a long flight to spring training years ago, Jobe told me the worst thing a team could do is push a pitcher until his second full year after surgery. “The body just isn’t ready” until then, he said to me then.
Rizzo is reading from the book of Jobe.
“I love the fact that the fans have passion about us and they’re talking about us and arguing about us on the radio. That’s great,” Rizzo said. “It’s the so-called experts, who portray themselves as experts because they pitched in the big leagues, who have all their [uniformed] opinions.”
No amount of chatter will change the Nationals’ approach.
Strasburg won’t remain in the rotation for the entire season. It’s as much a lock as the seasons changing.
“We just aren’t going to pull some number out of thin air,” Rizzo said. “It’s all based on the data, the background and the research . . . to calculate what we feel comfortable with.
“It’s all going to come down to what my eyes and the information tell me. Sure, we’re going to keep taking a lot of heat for it. I understand that. And hey, it’s definitely not an easy decision. It’s the right thing to do. . . but it’s still tough.”
Acquiring Greinke could take much of the sting out of watching Strasburg sit.
If the Nationals got him at the deadline, they would have potentially a month, if not more, of a rotation with Greinke, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. It’s sick just writing that.
With a Gonzalez-Greinke-Zimmermann playoff rotation, and Jackson bolstering the bullpen, the Nationals would be well-armed for a deep October run. Obviously, Greinke’s presence could lift the whole staff.
Some Nationals observers would argue that pursuing another game-changing starter would be short-sighted because the club ranks only 24th in the 30-team league in run production. But Ryan Zimmerman is rolling after the best cortisone shot in history. Michael Morse seems to have rediscovered his power, 19-year-old phemom Bryce Harper will have even better days ahead of him and Jayson Werth should be back before the end of the month.
Obviously, it wouldn’t be easy to get Greinke. But the Nationals have been surprising all season. There’s no reason to think they’ll stop now.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid