Pick through the debris from the Nationals‘ busted season and few scraps elicit more head-scratching than Monday’s acquisition of David DeJesus.
Two months ago? Sure. Bringing aboard DeJesus’ ability to play all three outfield positions and bolster an anemic bench would make sense.
Today? The race for the National League East pennant ended weeks ago as the Braves repeatedly lapped the Nationals. And overcoming the double-digit deficit to grab a wild-card spot is as likely as Anthony Bosch becoming a spokesman for the World Anti-Doping Agency.
And the Nationals bring on a 33-year-old veteran owed at least $2.5 million with no apparent spot to play? That’s the sort of deal better suited for an actual contender, not one resting its hopes on the litany of problems that beset the team suddenly disappearing in the season’s final six weeks.
At least one can (almost) make sense of the calamitous series of events that led to this strange, desperate entry in the transaction column.
The slew of injuries, from Bryce Harper’s previous affinity for running into outfield walls to Wilson Ramos’ fragile left hamstring to Ryan Mattheus’ unfortunate knockout of a clubhouse locker with his pitching hand.
There’s Danny Espinosa’s sudden inability to hit that exiled the second baseman to Triple-A Syracuse.
The mechanical and on-field mental struggles of onetime closer Drew Storen that led to a shaved head and revamped left-leg kick.
Back-end starter Dan Haren scuffled. Same with Adam LaRoche and multiple early season bullpen pieces who soon had occasion to seek employment elsewhere. Manager Davey Johnson did everything but draw lineups out of a hat in an attempt to discover a consistent formula to score runs.
Don’t forget the devolution of last season’s productive bench into a ramshackle outfit that’s combined for 21 percent of the team’s plate appearances (among five regulars) and provided minus-3.3 wins above replacement. No, that’s not good.
This is the mess DeJesus entered Monday afternoon in Chicago, when, as first reported by colleague Amanda Comak, the Nationals claimed him on revocable trade waivers, then worked out the trade with the Cubs for a player to be named.
Lest there be confusion about, say, a mistake in Major League Baseball’s arcane waiver process leading to DeJesus’ acquisition, general manager Mike Rizzo made a detailed defense of the trade to reporters Monday and sounded, by all rights, like the executive of a legitimate postseason contender.
On one hand, Rizzo made an obvious upgrade to part of the roster that’s underperformed all season. To make room for DeJesus, outfielder Roger Bernadina, who rolled up a .178 batting average in 167 plate appearances, was released. The veteran teased with his speed and strong arm and occasional flash of power. But he was just as prone to strike out or take poor routes to routine fly balls as make an unlikely catch in a season during which he appeared lost at the plate.
So, that’s an easy upgrade. DeJesus, on the other side, is solid. Everywhere. Solid defender. Solid on-base percentage. Solid against right-handed pitchers. Solid.
The problem, at least one of them, is simple math. There’s no place for DeJesus to play regularly. There aren’t many at-bats, either. Since July 1, Bernadina had all of 18 at-bats. That’s it.
The outfield is full. Jayson Werth is healthy. Bryce Harper, too. And Denard Span finally appears to be finding a rhythm at the plate. None of them is going to sit, other than an occasional day off. Plus, there’s Scott Hairston, brought over from the Cubs in a separate deal last month, to work into the mix.
The acquisition is another Jonny Gomes. He’s the affable outfielder with some punch in his bat the Nationals acquired from the Reds a few days before the July trade deadline in 2011 to bolster the bench. The Nationals were nine games removed from the wild card and, after 107 unremarkable plate appearances, Gomes departed as a free agent.
The real result of Monday’s deal? Fewer at-bats for youngster Tyler Moore, in his attempt to extricate himself from a season-long slump. And the $1.5 million buyout on DeJesus’ $6.5 million team option for 2014.
The upgrade, late as it is, is incremental. This won’t evaporate the Braves’ lead or rearrange the uneven numbers in the wild-card chase. Not this late. Not with this little opportunity to make an impact.
In a season filled with more questions than answers, though, perhaps the move fits right in.