“Standing Pat” At The Trade Deadline

With the MLB trade deadline looming, rumors of what the Washington Nationals will — and won’t — do are now beginning to circulate. This morning, commenter and analyst Buster Olney, wrote that “the dam is about ready to burst on the trade market,” with teams looking for a way to help themselves (or wave the white flag), before the end of July. The Tigers are looking for pitching, the Philllies are looking for a bat, and Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez is on everyone’s radar screen.

What will the Nationals do? G.M. Mike Rizzo isn’t exactly saying, though he notes that the team could be “both buyers and sellers” at the trade deadline. We have no clue what that means, which was obviously Rizzo’s intent. Still, the Nationals have been actively talking about acquiring a lead-off hitter (Michael Bourn’s name has been mentioned), and they have apparently inquired about Tampa’s B.J. Upton. There was even talk that the Nationals are willing to trade All-Star reliever Tyler Clippard in an attempt to answer some of their outfield problems.

There’s no question, a B.J. Upton trade would be intriguing: back in mid-June, Ken Rosenthal said that Upton could be had for the right price — with the Nationals ponying up a hot young infield prospect in a package with Clippard that would bring the then-struggling Upton to Washington. Rosenthal’s thinking was compelling: if the Rays fall out of contention, they could off-load Upton, and save themselves some future bucks. Hmmmmm. And, as Rosenthal noted then: Todd Coffey is being eyed by a number of teams who need a good righty out of the bullpen.

The rumors about Clippard have sparked negative comments among Nationals’ boosters: “Don’t trade Clippard. Don’t trade Clippard. Don’t trade Clippard,” one of our readers implored. Another reader, however, is silent on Clippard, but remains unimpressed by the effectiveness of the Nationals’ young shortstop-second base combo: “How about Marquis, Coffey, Desmond, Cora and Hairston for Hanley Ramirez?” he asks.

So what should the Nationals do? A trade for Upton would mark a major step for the franchise — and lock down the middle of the outfield for years to come. He’s young (26), talented and exciting. But Upton’s career has been deceiving: he’s not the .280-.300 hitting everyone supposes, and he never has been. His power numbers aren’t that great, the last time he hit anything out of the ballpark with consistency was back in 2007. And while Upton is good defensively, he’s been a source of frustration for Rays’ fans — he strikes out when he shouldn’t, he makes plenty of base running gaffes and sometimes he acts as if he’s wandered into the game by mistake. No doubt: Upton would look good in center, but in bringing him aboard, the Nationals would also bring aboard his questionable work ethic.

The same is true for Hanley Ramirez. It oughta be clear by now that Ramirez is probably too big to be an everyday shortstop — and where else would you put him? He has a history of dogging it and seems to resent authority (a plus in almost every other line of work), which wouldn’t go down well with Mike Rizzo or Davey Johnson. Ramirez makes Upton look like a model citizen. Sure, he’d be nice to have, as would Upton. But to get either the Nationals would have to give up a lot, including their All-Star reliever and a top prospect, or two (i.e. Steve Lambardozzi, or Peacock, or Milone).

So why do anything at all — why not just “stand pat?” There’s a good argument for doing so: giving up a top reliever (like Clippard, or Coffey, or even Sean Burnett) would amount to a real subtraction in the bullpen, which has recently struggled. With Cole Kimball down, the Nationals need to strengthen, not weaken, what they have. And while Nationals fans are frustrated with Ian Desmond’s lack of production at shortstop, his defense has improved and he’s still developing. Then too, and finally, maybe Roger Bernadina is hitting his stride. What’s wrong with waiting to find out?

The one strength the Nationals reportedly have is a good clubhouse, with guys who actually like each other, want to win, and play well together. So while getting Ramirez (with that once-upon-a-time breathtaking bat) is tempting, Ramirez is always one “I-don’t-wanna-do-that” comment away from being worth nothing at all. Teams don’t want to trade for problems, neither should the Nationals. Okay, if it’s possible to get a (possible) breakthrough guy like Upton, the Nationals should consider it. But the price is too high if they have to part with Clippard. Clippard isn’t an experiment, he’s “the real deal.”

And, finally, enough of this stockpiling prospects stuff. The object of this game isn’t to get a nice review in Baseball America, or climb the rankings in Baseball Prospectus. If Kansas City wants to fly that pennant, they’re welcome to it. It’s time to add veterans, and bats — and have a good season. We don’t need to stockpile prospects for the future. We need to win. So when Mike Rizzo gets those tempting phone calls about Tyler Clippard, we suggest he say “No thanks. We’ll play with what we have.”

(Above: Tyler Clippard at the All-Star game with Ryan Vogelsong, Kevin Correia and Brian Wilson. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)