BALTIMORE — The last time the Washington Nationals made a trade with the Baltimore Orioles, the Nationals weren’t even the Nationals; they were the Expos. And there was no baseball in Washington; it was in Montreal. This was in the fall of 2001, when the Expos sent Tim Raines, a future Hall of Famer, to Baltimore, expressly so he could play with his son, a rookie with the Orioles. Such were relationships between the franchises then, that each was happy to facilitate such a feel-good move.
Mike Rizzo has been the general manager of the Nationals for more than a decade. He has completed trades with 27 of the 29 other franchises. The exceptions are Houston, for whatever reason, and Baltimore, for what would seem to be a specific reason: The groups that own the two teams have a deep and abiding loathing for each other. Oh, and they have been embroiled in a legal case regarding tens of millions of dollars from their shared regional sports network.
One last item: The Orioles have a reliever, Mychal Givens, who is as likely to help the Nationals’ bullpen as anyone. He is making $2.15 million, an affordable sum. He is under club control for two more seasons, which makes him even more attractive.
So, if the two baseball operations departments came to an agreement on players to send this way and that, could the Nationals and Orioles actually make a deal?
“Of course,” Rizzo said Tuesday evening. “I would make a trade within the division. I’d make a trade with anyone if it made us better.”
Uh, but Mike: You work for the Lerner family, and the amount of paper the Lerners have filed in their dispute about money from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network with the Angelos ownership group of the Orioles could fill both a dictionary and a Tolstoy novel. Wouldn’t ownership — on both sides — dictate the following: Don’t give them anything!
“There is no edict,” Rizzo said.
Mike Elias is in his first year as Rizzo’s counterpart with the Orioles. He is overseeing a massive rebuild that doesn’t even have the hole dug to build the foundation, so getting prospects for major league players makes sense. The Nationals have an obvious need at the back end of the bullpen, because who knows how long Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey and 42-year-old Fernando Rodney will hold up in front of closer Sean Doolittle?
“It’s probably similar to why you don’t see many deals between the A’s and the Giants or the Yankees and the Mets,” Elias said. “There would be some regional sensitivity when you know whoever you give up would be playing down the road.”
There’s a point well-taken. The last trade between Oakland and San Francisco was in 2004, when the Athletics purchased lefty Adam Pettyjohn from the Giants. The two New York franchises have a more recent deal — the Yankees bought right-hander Gonzalez Germen from the Mets in December 2014 — but it’s more oddity than regular occurrence.
And yet, Elias echoed Rizzo: He has not heard from ownership that he’s not allowed to deal with the Nats. There is, he said, no edict.
“It just hasn’t come up,” he said.
Color me skeptical at the least, suspicious at worst. I’ll take both general managers at their word: They believe, if the baseball side of it worked out, they could make a deal. I would argue that neither ownership group would allow such a deal to go through. And which GM would want to be the one perceived to “lose” the deal, and then have to report back to the bosses?
Some more facts: According to data compiled by Baseball-Reference.com, every team in baseball has traded with every other team in baseball since that last Orioles-Nats/Expos deal except for two: St. Louis and Pittsburgh. (Yes, that Jason Christiansen-for-Jack Wilson swap was way back in the summer of 2000.)
Think about what that means. The Red Sox and Yankees have been trade partners (Kelly Johnson to Boston for Stephen Drew in the summer of 2014). The Cardinals and Cubs have been trade partners (Jeff Fassero to St. Louis for a pair of players to be named later in 2002). The Giants and Dodgers have been trade partners (Mark Sweeney to Los Angeles for a player to be named later in 2007). Baseball’s biggest rivals have managed to make trades while the O’s and Nats haven’t. That seems like more than a coincidence.
Something like $100 million would seem to be enough to make it more than a coincidence. That’s the amount the Baltimore Sun reported MLB’s revenue-sharing committee decided the Orioles owe the Nats as their share of revenue from MASN from 2012 to 2016. What’s $100 million a year between friends? That money hasn’t yet changed hands. So how would a player?
The rancor between the ownership groups — all that lingers from Major League Baseball’s move of the Expos from Montreal to Washington in the fall of 2004 — is about the only bitterness that the annual series between the franchises can muster these days. There were some periods, mostly from 2012 to 2016, when both teams were competing for the postseason and the games had a bit of an edge.
But now, the Orioles are the worst team in baseball, on pace to lose more than 110 games for the second consecutive season. That’s stunning. The Nats are fighting for what would be their fifth postseason berth in eight seasons. That’s impressive.
Two franchises at such different points in their development should be perfect trade partners. Elias, too, has already shown his intentions as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. Over the weekend, the Orioles sent pitcher Andrew Cashner to Boston for a pair of 17-year-old prospects. Baltimore is open for business, and the return it gets need not be major league ready.
Which brings us to Givens. His numbers this season — a 4.50 ERA with 1.22 walks and hits per inning pitched — don’t approach the best of his career. But now that he has mostly settled into a steady role — as the closer — he has been better. He hasn’t allowed a run in nine of his past 11 appearances, a period in which he has held opposing hitters to a .143 average and .557 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while striking out 20 and walking only three.
Givens isn’t a world-beater, but the Nats continue to audition any and all relievers who have fallen on baseball’s garbage heap — from Rodney to Jonny Venters to Javy Guerra to Brad Boxberger, just now settling in at Class AA Harrisburg. He would fit, for sure.
It would be great if Rizzo and Elias were right, if there was not only no edict from ownership, but if each would see the value in dealing with the other. Mr. Angelos, Mr. Lerner, let the baseball people make a baseball trade — for the good of both your franchises, $100 million aside.