- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Wilson Ramos remembers the day well. It was nearly a year ago that his career changed.

Ramos was in the outfield in Lawrenceville, Ga., warming up his pitcher for Triple-A Rochester’s game with the Gwinnett Braves when his manager called him in and told him he was out of the starting lineup.

“Congratulations,” Tom Nieto, the manager of the Minnesota Twins’ affiliate, told Ramos. “You’re going to the Washington Nationals.”

“[He told me to] call your mom, call your agent, go to the hotel, pick up your stuff and you leave tomorrow,” Ramos recalled this week. “I said ‘OK,’ — but I got excited.”

On July 29, 2010, Ramos became the latest deadline deal for the Nationals and general manager Mike Rizzo, who traded All-Star closer Matt Capps for the touted 22-year-old catcher in spite of his lackluster .241 average and five home runs in Triple-A to that point of the season.

In a long line of the “proven major leaguers for untested prospects” trades in Nationals history, Ramos has become the symbol for success. In 70 games for the Nationals, Ramos has slugged nine homers, has 33 RBI, is hitting .251 and draws rave reviews from his pitching staff for his defense and ability to call a game.

While the catcher is on track toward a long-term role with the Nationals, Capps (3-5) has struggled, yo-yoing in and out of the closer role with a 4.71 ERA and seven blown saves in 26 chances. Meanwhile, the main man blocking Ramos for the four-plus years he was in the Twins organization, Joe Mauer, has dealt with injuries, and Minnesota has explored moving him to first base.

“If somebody trades for you, it’s because they need you,” Ramos said. “In this organization, I was thinking ‘OK, I’ve got a great opportunity to play in the big leagues.’ It’s great now, working with [Ivan Rodriguez] … I saw what happened in Minnesota, where they’re trying to train Mauer at a new position and I say, ‘OK, maybe they miss me,’ or they’re thinking ‘Oh, why did we trade Ramos?’ That happens in baseball. You never know what can happen.”

Perhaps more than the Venezuela native knows, he’s right. Dealing a known commodity for a prospect always is risky.

As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches, the Nationals know that all too well. Still, they find themselves in a familiar position. They’re not yet immediate contenders, and therefore not buyers with a “win now” mentality. Plus, they have several veteran players who are drawing interest. More prospects could be in their future shortly.

But for every Wilson Ramos, or Ryan Mattheus (who was an injured prospect acquired from Colorado at the deadline in 2009 for Joe Beimel), there are Aaron Thompsons — acquired for Nick Johnson — and Luis Garcias, for Ronnie Belliard.

In assessing this year’s trade market, Rizzo is trying to take the same approach as he has in years past.

“We’re not going to be buyers to buy for 2011,” Rizzo said. “If we’re buyers, it’ll be a long-term asset that will help us this year and down the road. … Do we better ourselves by making this move or are we better off just standing pat?

“We were in that position with [Adam] Dunn last year and we chose to stand pat. Years past, we thought that trading Joe Beimel was a good idea. We thought that trading [Cristian Guzman] was a good idea.”

Since Rizzo took over as GM in 2009, the Nationals have unloaded major leaguers each year at the deadline. This season, they have players such as pitchers Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez — who Washington already has traded once for prospects —
on one-year deals.

In collecting the prospects, the Nationals also rid themselves of more than $6 million in salary. Only two of the prospects from Rizzo’s four main deadline deals — Ramos and Mattheus — have made it to the major leagues. Most are still stuck below Triple-A. Some have been released, as Thompson was.

“We’ve made trades for pieces that didn’t fit for us long term to gather some assets that did fit for us long term,” Rizzo said. “Sometimes those trades don’t work out, but at the time when you get a Mattheus for a Beimel, looking back that one seems to be working out pretty good.”

Note: Reliever Chad Gaudin was given his unconditional release Thursday. The right-hander went 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in 10 appearances.



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