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N.L. East Intelligencer: Washington Nationals at the trade deadline - special Sun Tzu edition

Mike, not Frank, Rizzo.  "Hamels, right? Great! I got your bag of baseballs right here!"  Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Mike, not Frank, Rizzo. "Hamels, right? Great! I got your bag of baseballs right here!" Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

In China last week, an inscribed clay tablet was found wrapped around three cigars and buried amongst the Terracotta Army warriors. How a clay tablet was wrapped around the cigars remains a mystery of the ancient world, right up there with building the pyramids, but presumably the clay was wet. I don't know how they got the tobacco. In any case, the inscription read (in an ancient Chinese dialect):

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred and two games with only sixty losses.

If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.

If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will trade away the farm and run like the French when Halladay gets hurt.

Whether the quote is from Sun-Tzu or Tacticus, or some other source is unknown, but clearly there is utility to be had here. If we are able to blog hard enough to help the Phillies catch, perhaps, the Miami Marlins, we need to step up our game. And intelligence about the enemy is a good place to start at this time of year when the loins begin to stir at the prospect of new prospects.

So let's take a stroll around the local neighborhood and see who is coveting whom. A delightful place to begin may be Washington, that cesspool of covetousness and intrigue. The jump, you will jump it.

The first question for any team is, "are they in contention?" The answer for the Nationals is "yes." Then you have to ask, "do they have the assets to use to get a player?" The answer is "yes" in the form of Anthony Rendon and a pretty solid minor league system. The owner also has more money than god, so the team has the financial flexibility to make a deal.

From that starting point, what trade deadline needs do the Nationals have? The "obvious" one is a starting pitcher, since everybody "knows" that St. Stephen has an innings cap of 160 or so. A rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, and Jordan Zimmermann (with Ross Detwiler in a supporting role) is still a fabulous one. The rationale to add a starter seems to come more from a sense of "Strasburg is getting shut down, so they must add a pitcher" rather than, "Is the rest of the rotation enough to (1) get the Nationals to the playoffs, and (2) do they have three good pitchers once they get to the playoffs?" The answer appears to be "yes" though I can understand that some people may not be high on Edwin Jackson. Would it be nice to add Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, or Ryan Dempster? Sure, but at what cost? And how much assurance do any of them really provide of playoff success?

As a result, I'm less inclined to believe opium-fueled dreams like this, and instead look past starting pitching to other possible needs of the Nationals. Keep in mind that the Nationals will be rational actors and want to win this year. And next year. And the next. And so on. They are at the front end of the curve, which as Phillies fans may remember, is on the opposite side of the curve from "sell out to win." It still burns, doesn't it?

The Nationals are set at first (Adam LaRoche), second (Danny Espinosa), short (Ian Desmond), and Third (Ryan Zimmerman, depending on his wonky shoulder). Catcher? Meeeehhhh, not so much. Steve Lombardozzi slots in lots of places as a super sub, and they have a pretty solid lineup in the dirt.

In the outfield, they have Michael Morse, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth, with the latter to come off the DL pretty soon, perhaps August 1. Rick Ankiel and others already in place can spell the starters and provide bench bats. Calls for the Nationals to upgrade in center seem like attempts to gin up deadline rumor talk for a team that looks pretty set. Harper, Werth, and Morse will get it done in the outfield for the Nationals this year, anyway. Adding another player would create a logjam and the defensive upgrade would be marginal. It is also hard to imagine the Nats working a deal in the division with the Phillies for Shane Victorino, though he might be a good fit for them if they are really torqued about adding a true defensive center fielder.

As far as the bullpen is concerned, the Nationals have Drew Storen coming back from an injury to bolster the ranks. In his absence, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, and Sean Burnett have been doing a pretty good job. Adding someone else seems unnecessary, and I suspect Mike Rizzo is not a bigger fool than I am.

Why would the Nationals do anything, such as trade Anthony Rendon? I'm not seeing a reason. Perhaps they may want to add another bench player, in the event that Ryan Zimmerman runs out of cortisone or maybe upgrade at catcher. Anyone that they would want to fill in for Zimmerman would need to be a rental, though, since Zimmerman is signed for a kajillion years at a bazillion dollars.

I don't see Washington doing much at the deadline, and that seems to be the consensus. More to report would be really neat, but I just don't see it. Still, if you click a link today, it should be the proposed Hamels to the Nats story at Fangraphs, but prepare to be boggled before you do it.