DETROIT — As the Washington Nationals’ players moved in and out of the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park on Tuesday, on their way to the batting cage or the training room or to get something to eat, the scroll on the bottom of the clubhouse televisions delivered the latest news.
A reliever was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Cleveland Indians. Two starting pitchers were scratched from their starts due to ongoing negotiations. Rumors were percolating across the league.
The trade deadline, which will arrive at 4 p.m. Wednesday, was imminent. And the most uncertain time of year for a baseball player trudged on.
“We just hang out, and whatever happens, happens,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has seen teammates come and go around this date for many years. “The guys who make those decisions have a job to do. A tough job to do.
“Sometimes they do things, sometimes they don’t. That’s the way I look at it. You shouldn’t worry about something you really can’t control.”
The Nationals are not inactive as the deadline approaches. They’ve been engaged in conversations with several teams, including at least slightly involved in talks for Houston Astros right-hander Bud Norris, who was held out of his scheduled start in Baltimore.
But team and major league officials have not indicated that any move is imminent and the Nationals were said to be “lukewarm” on Norris in the past.
That would appear to jibe with manager Davey Johnson’s view of the situation.
“I don’t think we’re going to do anything,” Johnson said before the Nationals‘ game against the Detroit Tigers. “I think we’ve got the players we want here. We just need them to do the things we know they’re capable of doing. We’re fine.”
The Nationals, preseason World Series favorites, vastly underachieved in playing to a 52-54 record entering Tuesday night. But they also have very few areas in which there is an obvious upgrade.
Their starting eight position players are all under contract through at least the 2014 season, and they built the team so that would be the case.
In fact, the only area general manager Mike Rizzo has spoken specifically about improving is the team’s bench. They’ve already acquired Scott Hairston to beef up the right-handed options in that department, and they continue to explore left-handed bench help.
“We’ve received calls, we’ve made calls,” Rizzo said Saturday. “I’m not going to go much more into it than that other than we’re going to do what we do at every trade deadline. We’re going to try to improve this ballclub for 2013 and beyond.
“If we could tweak or improve certain spots on the bench, I think that would be one place that we would attack. But we’ve got ourselves a pretty talented group of guys that we’re committed to and we like where we’re at.”
Even if the Nationals let Wednesday’s deadline pass without a move, they could make trades throughout August, but every player traded at that point would have to clear waivers in order to be moved. The Nationals acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki in a waiver trade in 2012.
But as they opened play Tuesday nine games behind the Atlanta Braves — with six games against them in the next three weeks — the Nationals reiterated that what they need is for the players they already have to perform. Doing nothing at the deadline may reinforce that message, too.
“It’s not like you can point to one area or one person or whatever,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s capable of doing better than they have been doing and I’ve seen signs of it. It’s not just the offense. It’s pitching, it’s everything.
“We’ve seen signs of it the last few games but we just need to be consistent in every aspect of the game from here on out. We need to win series. That’s the key. We do that, things will work out.”