The Nationals clubhouse is something of an uncertain place right now — and not just because the team has lost five straight and nine of 12 since the All-Star break. Make no mistake, the signs of disappointment and frustration over the team’s recent slide are everywhere — along with the idea that an end to it is coming.
But the knowledge that the Nationals, as they’re currently constructed, may not be the same ones who come out the other side in a week is prevalent as well. Every day a new name from the Nationals 25-man roster seems to be whispered as heading to this destination or that one. Every day off is scrutinized, every lineup card is studied for missing names.
The rumors are not something lost on the players. Everyone walks around with a keen eye. This past weekend, the name on everyone’s tongues was Ian Desmond’s. Wednesday, it was closer Drew Storen’s. The names of Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez, Tyler Clippard and Todd Coffey have all also been whispered at one time or another. All the players can do is pretend that they’re unaware and hope that it doesn’t affect them and their on-field performance.
After their fifth straight loss, and a sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins — a team once so far in the depths of the league the Nationals looked sure to cruise to a finish out of last place — there was at least acknowledgement that the time of year may be having an affect on the team’s focus.
“That’s a good point, that could be,” said right fielder Jayson Werth when asked if the constant rumors were having an effect.
“A lot of these guys are young. They haven’t been through this. It’s not tough to turn on your computer and find your name somewhere these days. Maybe that’s part of it. I went through it last year at the trade deadline. It is hard to play when that stuff’s out there. We’re almost there. Hopefully this won’t last much longer and we can get back to playing good baseball — if that is in fact the reason behind it — but, who knows. It’s part of the game.”
Quite honestly, this is a time of year where players are almost completely helpless. Unless they have a no-trade clause in their contract, almost all are at the mercy of their general manager and the best offer.
“This is where I want to be,” Storen, one of eight home-grown players on the Nationals active roster, said Wednesday night after his name surfaced in connection to a possible trade with the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span. “It’s flattering, it’s really nice that teams think highly of me… but it’s a little different to see.”
It’s nearly the same answer you’d get if you took a 25-man poll of the Nationals clubhouse. It’s a part of the business of baseball that players get traded but there’s no question the potential of it all is weighing on many of the minds of those in there right now. Their newest teammate, Jonny Gomes, was a perfect example of how quickly things can change in this game as he arrived Wednesday afternoon.
There are still three days until the deadline at 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Nationals still have to win games before then in order to stop their season from falling into a complete and total tailspin. Thirty-four of their remaining 58 games this season are against divisional opponents. They’re going to have to beat their closest neighbors if a shot at the playoffs — or more realistically a shot at a .500 record or better — is to be kept alive.
Even their newest member could see that.
“There’s only a few teams in first,” Gomes said when asked if understood the challenge facing the Nationals. “That’s the only thing that matters. If you’re not in first, everyone else is in the same boat. If you’re not in first, everyone’s looking up. We have the same mission and the same strategy of the team in second place. We’ll play a little bit of catch up and just get on a roll and get hot.”