By the time you read these 990 or so words, the July 31 MLB trade deadline will have passed, some changes to the Washington Nationals will have been made and bloggers and mass media members will have started heavy drinking to reward themselves for surviving such a perilous time. I say good riddance.
I am not a fan of this time of year. There is just too much fantasy and not enough facts going around. Both players and fans seem constantly in a state of being on edge, team’s general managers seem to be communicating and getting ideas from the Mothership orbiting the planet and it always seems that teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and (I can’t believe I am saying this) Pittsburgh Pirates are getting stronger while the Nationals, well, remain the Nationals.
The Nationals have a history of flubbing the trade deadline and not striking when things are hot. It has become a sad yearly indictment of the front office that I am tired of having to deal with, which is why I spent the weekend in Pataskala, Ohio almost getting my face chomped off by a pitbull and learning about underwater space alien bases. You can make Ohio a really exciting place if you try.
However, the most aggravating thing for me during the deadline is the reaction of the fans themselves. Before I ran off to hide in the Buckeye state, I spent the week researching, observing and debating the merits of would-be-trades. The major trade rumor of this whole fairy tale had reliever Drew Storen going to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Denard Span. Say what you will about the talent of these players, as well as the respective team needs. It was no secret the Twins would covet some strong, young bullpen help, while the Nationals are in desperate need of a centerfielder, a leadoff hitter and some good old-fashioned offense. There were concerns over giving up a homegrown player like Storen for a concussed Span. There were also rumors that the Twins wanted more, like Roger Bernadina and Stephen Lombardozzi on top of Storen, which should have nixed the trade. At its core, though, a potential Storen-for-Span trade was really a no-brainer. A trade like this needed to be made, as it is beneficial to both sides.
By now we all know how it turned out.
Obviously, we don't know exactly what the offer was. It's possible Minnesota was asking for the moon. But the fanbase's general reaction to the non-trade of Storen made me feel like I got an ulcer. There is a certain faction of Natstown that raged at the idea this could actually happen. "NO! Storen is home grown!" "NO! Storen is a core player!" "NO! Storen's a future All-Star!" "NO! Storen is such a nice guy!" "NO! Storen has charities in D.C.!" "NO! Attendance will fall without Storen!" "NO! I love Drew Storen! He is my favorite!" Then, of course, there were the plain "NO!" answers that gave no explanation why the Nationals should shuck off any chance to possibly improve the team.
Oh, Natstown. We’ve been together so long, yet we still have so much to learn.
I understand favorite players. We all have them. They are fun to have and it is all part of the game. I can even understand fans "adopting" players and building vicarious relationships through them like a jocktacular version of Dungeons and Dragons. But when the goal is building a real baseball team with perennial staying power, there are times we’ve got to give up the fantasy of knights in shining armor. There are times we’ve got to give up the nice guy (Is nice guy something to quantify?). There are times we have to order the sacrifice of the guys we love for the greater good to be done, which is improving the baseball club.
Denard Span, folks, is not a bum. He's a 26-year old center fielder that gets on base, provides great speed and defense and is under contract through 2015. The Nationals have been searching for a center fielder and a leadoff hitter for an eternity, and now Natstown is raging because a reliever has to be the casualty? You have to give up something to get something.
Isn’t that what it is all about? Bringing a pennant and eventually a World Series to Washington? Let’s not let obsession over one player or fan favoritism blind us from this ultimate goal. Let’s not create a pointless soap opera. The Nationals as is are not contenders. As is, they aren’t even a .500 team anymore. Something needs to change, and change takes risk. If they don’t take the occasional risk, they will never change and never get out of the NL East cellar. Winning teams play and act fearlessly. They prey off teams not having the grapefruits to change and adapt.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. It has been what the Nationals have been doing for nearly six seasons now, and what has it left them with? A fantasy. A pipe dream. A soap opera. If you want soap operas I can point you in the direction of the Washington Redskins.
I might be a little harsh in saying this, but I think it is time we all just need to wake up. It is time to see where this team is and where it is really going. It is going nowhere right now because, sadly, people seem to be more than satisfied with just ‘having" baseball back in D.C. Well, I say now that we have baseball, the team and fan base should be defined by what we do with it. It starts with being fearless. It starts with real change, the type that doesn’t involve scraping the bottom of the barrel or being concerned if players are nice guys or not.
The Nats didn’t really succeed or fail this deadline, but they didn’t really change paths either. But don’t read me wrong. Storen is a great player and all-around nice guy. If there is one thing the Nationals have taught us since 2005 it is that a team of nice guys do finish last.
At least in the NL East.