No NL East team has yet separated from the field. The Phillies, Braves and Nationals are all within five games of the Mets leading the division, with much of the division hovering in the .500 realm.
It’s almost certainly a division title or failure for all of these teams, with the NL West’s top three ahead of all the Mets in the National League playoff table. There’s likely only one path to the playoffs for New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, but the division’s overall disappointing play left the door open for everyone.
None of that group can really afford a fit over the next two weeks – especially not the fourth-placed Nats, who are 45-49. Speak with journalists (including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com and Maria Torres from athletics) ahead of yesterday’s game, Washington GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged that the team’s performance over the next week and a half will go a long way in determining their course of action ahead of the July 30.
Rizzo suggested the front office would look to add to the roster if the team performs well over the next few days. He didn’t say what exactly that calculation looked like or how far from the top of the division the club would need to stay for the Nationals to serve as buyers. Washington beat the Marlins last night and will go for a Miami sweep tonight. After a day off tomorrow, the Nats travel to Baltimore for three games before a four-game set in Philadelphia that will take them to the deadline.
Under Rizzo’s leadership, the Nationals have traditionally not shied away from making mid-season upgrades when they see the opportunity. The general manager didn’t say where the club would look to upgrade if they end up buying, but a few places on the list stand out as logical adjustments. The Nationals may need help at the end of the rotation, and the bullpen still had its share of problems.
On the positional side, second or third base could easily be improved. Alcide Escobar has played well since his acquisition a few weeks ago, but he hadn’t appeared in the major leagues in the past two seasons and hasn’t had an above-average campaign since 2014. (Escobar has also been diagnosed with a bruised right wrist after being hit by a throw in last night’s game).
Starlin castro didn’t play very well at third base and was put on administrative leave last week after being charged with domestic violence. (While not a disciplinary measure, the administrative leave gives the MLB time to investigate alleged domestic violence policy violations while keeping the accused player away from the team. ). Rizzo told reporters yesterday (including Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli) he doesn’t expect Castro to return, stating the organization “lack“in their process of verifying the player’s lineup and stating that Castro’s alleged behavior is”not something that (manager) Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo’s Washington Nationals will have on this team.“
If the going the other way and the Nationals end up selling, no player on the list will get more attention than an ace. Max Scherzer. Rizzo has said he expects Scherzer to stay in Washington beyond the trade deadline, although he hasn’t called him untouchable. When asked if there was a scenario in which Scherzer could be made available, Rizzo replied “if we were to become definitive sellers, everything would be on the table, I think. What i don’t foresee. “
The odds are overwhelmingly against a Scherzer trade, though it’s at least a little noticeable that Rizzo wouldn’t rule this out entirely. It would apparently take a bad game week for the Nationals to even consider a trade with Scherzer, and there are plenty of hurdles that could stand in the way even if Washington made him available. While expected to enter free agency at the end of the year, the eight-time All-Star owes $ 15 million in annual carry-overs until the end of 2028. He also has full non-trade rights, and Agent Scott Boras suggested last month Scherzer might not give it up unless he is given some other form of contractual inducement to do so.
It would be easier for Nationals to move some of their other impending free agents. Utility Josh harrison and lifters Brad the hand and Daniel hudson would all generate calls from interested clubs. Jon Lester isn’t having a great year, but he could improve some teams’ starting fifth places even further and would be a respected clubhouse veteran.
The opportunity is there for the team to quell all of this speculation by playing well over the next week. The division still looks winnable for one of the top four teams, and Rizzo’s track record supports his claim that he would be ready to complete the roster if the club shows enough life until the deadline.