- - Thursday, August 1, 2019


Washington Nationals fans can breathe easy — the owners of their baseball team have likely secured the fat wallet award again this season with their reluctance to add payroll of consequence — and reward — at the trading deadline.

General manager Mike Rizzo does what Rizzo does well with his deadline deals — compete. He managed to add three relievers — Daniel Hudson from the Toronto Blue Jays and Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias from the Seattle Mariners. They will make the Washington bullpen better.

Then again, 42-year-old Fernando Rodney made this bullpen-by-prayer better.

At the same time, the team the Nationals are trying to chase in the National League East — the Atlanta Braves — added a different level of bullpen help, the kind that helps you win championships. They acquired Mark Melancon from the San Francisco Giants, Chris Martin from the Texas Rangers and Shane Greene from the Detroit Tigers.

It’s not a fair comparison, right? The Braves had about $50 million to play with before they hit baseball’s luxury tax threshold, the penalty imposed on teams for spending too much money.

The Nationals had change in their payroll pockets. If they went over the limit, they would be paying a penalty for the third year in a row. A penalty more significant than the previous two.

The Lerner family, who spent decades trying to buy a sports franchise before acquiring the Nationals from Major League Baseball in 2006, didn’t want another penalty.

So Rizzo, trying to win a World Series at the trade deadline, did what he could.

Lerner apologists will defend the owners, saying the penalties would have been too severe for a roster that, even if the team broke the bank, was not likely to compete — really compete — for a title.

Like the great Davey Johnson once said, managing, particularly in the postseason, is about bullpen and bench.

The Braves addressed their bullpen. The Nationals … well.

“I think we’ve upgraded our bullpen,” Rizzo told reporters. “These aren’t the sexiest names in the trade market, but we think we got good quality, reliable guys with some moxie and some experience.”

Moxie. This is like describing a blind date as someone with a great personality.

This Nationals team has come a long way from its 19-31 start. They went from hopeless to hopeful. But they are in a fight for a wild-card berth for the next two months, and still have to make up games to catch the team that did more than get relievers with moxie and experience.

It wasn’t just about payroll. The Braves dealt away three of their higher-rated prospects. Washington didn’t give up any of their top-rated minor leaguers.

But you get what you pay for.

According to the Washington Post, the Tigers insisted on the Nationals‘ prize prospect, Carter Kieboom, for Greene, who had 22 saves and a 1.18 ERA this season in Detroit.

You don’t want to trade Kieboom. He’s the six-year rental the Nationals have waiting to replace the six-year rental named Anthony Rendon.


If your goal, as the Lerners have told their fans, is to win a world championship, then, sooner or later you have to step up and be bold and stop waiting for the early-round playoff exits to occur.

This fear of salary threshold penalties is a convenient excuse for the family business practice of refusing to commit to the steps needed for postseason success.

They’ve held back baseball operations from making trade deadline deals because of costs before they ever entered salary threshold hell.

Given the revenue generated by hosting postseason games beyond the division round, the notion that the Nationals owners would take a hit financially is convenient misdirection — if postseason success is truly the goal.

I’m sure the Lerners think they spend enough for that success, with the sixth-highest payroll in baseball.

Sometimes it takes more.

I’ve seen trade deadline deals that energized an entire clubhouse. It is a signal to your team that you believe in them enough to gamble on that faith.

It is a commitment to championship results.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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