Why Davey Johnson Is Wrong: Nationals Should Make a Trade-Deadline Deal

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterJuly 21, 2012

Davey Johnson thinks the Nationals should stand pat at the trade deadline.
Davey Johnson thinks the Nationals should stand pat at the trade deadline.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

One of the more curious rumors to develop as we approach baseball's July 31 trade deadline is the Washington Nationals showing interest in making a deal for Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster.

The Nats aren't a team that needs Dempster to bolster its starting rotation like the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees or Tigers; you could argue that adding a bat to their lineup is a far greater need. But hitters look to be in short supply right now. Pitching is the available commodity. 

Dempster to the Nats? Don't they already have enough pitching with a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler? Their staff ERA is second in the majors. And opponents are hitting .234 against Nationals pitchers, the best mark in baseball. 

Someone who agrees with that argument is Nationals manager Davey Johnson. Before Friday's game versus the Braves, Johnson told reporters that he didn't think the Nats should make a big deal at the trade deadline. 

"I have gone into that area with general managers, saying, 'I need so-and-so,' or this, that and the other," Johnson said, according to MASN.com's Dan Kolko. "But I like what we have here. I don't see any emergency move needed."

Johnson went on to explain, as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore wrote, that trading for a top pitcher runs contrary to the way the Nats have been doing business in recent years. They've developed minor leaguers until they were ready for the majors and those players now fill key roles on a team that holds first place in the NL East. 

That philosophy applies when you're building a team from the ground up and trying to establish a winning team and playoff contender. But the Nationals have already reached that point. They've actually jumped ahead in whatever plan Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo laid out.

The Nats are now a team that will very likely make the playoffs, whether it's as a division champion or wild card. And in a year when there's no clear favorite in the National League, the Nationals have a chance to get to the World Series. 

With that being the case, Johnson is wrong about the need to make a big trade.

The Nationals are in position to play for a championship, even if it seems like it might be a year or two early for them. So the time is right to make a big trade that can strengthen their chances of winning. Because these opportunities don't come around that often.

Yes, the Nationals already have impressive pitching depth. Besides the starters on hand, John Lannan is waiting to be called up from Triple-A Syracuse and gives the Nats another solid arm to add to the back of the rotation. 

However, Rizzo has already made it clear that he intends to shut Strasburg down in September when he's reached the innings limit the team established for him. The Nats are going to need another starting pitcher, and if they can bring in one better than Lannan, why not do so?

Johnson may be right in that the Nationals don't have to make a trade, but they can make a trade and can add crucial depth to a playoff contender in the process. If that costs the organization a couple of pitching prospects, that's a price worth paying.

(Maybe Rizzo draws the line at prized prospect Alex Meyer. If that's who Theo Epstein wants in return for Dempster, is that a deal breaker?)

Dempster may not be a true No. 1 starter, but the Nationals already have those types of pitchers in Strasburg and Gonzalez. The Cub's shown he can dominate against NL competition as his league-leading 2.11 ERA demonstrates. Adding him as a No. 3 starter (or No. 2, if and when Strasburg is shut down) gives the Nats a truly formidable starting rotation. 

By the way, Dempster can be a replacement for Strasburg in more ways than one—he could take over Strasburg's spot in the rotation after the infamous innings limit is reached. But Dempster could also be used to extend Strasburg's season and allow him to be available in September or October. Strasburg could skip a few turns with Dempster filling in.

The Nats could also go to a six-man rotation. Or they could use Dempster to give other pitchers besides Strasburg a rest. Maybe Gonzalez or Zimmermann could miss a start or two to keep their arms fresh. Would that be disruptive to Dempster's routine? He's shown plenty of versatility throughout his major league career, moving between the starting rotation and bullpen. He's a veteran who can adapt.

Not pitching him every five days probably won't be as disruptive to Dempster as it might be to a younger pitcher like Strasburg or Zimmermann. 

The possibilities are numerous, which is what makes this potential deal so exciting. And it's why the Nationals should pursue it. Under normal circumstances, Johnson is right: An up-and-coming team like the Nationals shouldn't compromise its investment in the future for a grab at present glory that may not work out.

But this is a different situation. The future has become the present. An opportunity has presented itself and that glory is attainable. 

The Nationals' chances at winning a championship become that much better with adding Dempster to their pitching staff. Giving up prospects for a three-month rental won't be a setback to the team's future. That's why Rizzo has to make this trade. 

Sorry, Davey—you're wrong this time. 

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