Losing a shortstop for two months makes it more critical than ever that the Washington Nationals acquire a proven closer. Yes, sometimes it's hard to connect the dots. On the other hand, ignore the baseball gods at your own risk.Let's be clear: General manager Mike Rizzo will have to overpay
Losing a shortstop for two months makes it more critical than ever that the Washington Nationals acquire a proven closer. Yes, sometimes it's hard to connect the dots. On the other hand, ignore the baseball gods at your own risk.
Let's be clear: General manager Mike Rizzo will have to overpay -- and probably overpay significantly -- to acquire a proven closer. We're probably talking about Player Page for David Robertson of the White Sox or Kelvin Herrera of the Royals.
Alex Colome or Brad Boxberger of the Rays probably could end up in the conversation as well. Outside of that, forget it.
Would Rizzo part with outfielder Victor Robles, the Nats' top prospect who's ranked No. 5 overall by MLBPipeline? Or perhaps a package of prospects that would include right-hander (and No. 50 MLB prospect) Erick Fedde, who has been pitching in relief in the Minors the past month?
Rizzo knows that's where discussions would begin, since the Royals and Rays are still very much in contention and unlikely to do anything that smacks of dismantling. The White Sox are in contention, too, but general manager Rick Hahn has made it clear to teams he's open for business as he takes a longer view of his roster.
That's a problem for the Nationals, who've now lost six games in which they took a lead into the ninth inning. The latest was Thursday when the Cubs scored three times on Blake Treinen in the ninth to win 5-4 at Nationals Park.
The defeat itself might be buried in the tough news that shortstop Trea Turner suffered a broken right wrist and will be sidelined indefinitely. If you're wondering how the Nationals will react to all this, don't sweat it. They've still got a very deep, very good lineup.
Regardless of who manager Dusty Baker installs atop his order, the Nationals are still plenty good enough to win the National League East. If Stephen Drew gets the playing time at short, he'll play his usual first-rate defensive game and hopefully contribute something offensively as well.
Don't worry about the Nationals feeling sorry for themselves, although they've earned a moment or two. This team began the season with two dynamic players at the top of the order: center fielder Adam Eaton and Turner.
Eaton played just 23 games before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that will sideline him until next spring. At the time of that injury, they still had Turner, who at 24 is on the fast track to being a star.
He was leading the National League with 35 stolen bases and had a .324 on-base percentage at the time of the injury.
Turner could still return in September to get ready for postseason play, and that's the other silver lining. Despite everything, the Nationals are still 47-32 and leading the NL East by 9 1/2 games entering play Friday.
Now is the time to fix the bullpen, which would give the club at least a psychological boost after another late defeat. Could the Nationals fix things from within? Sure, they could.
If Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis can return from the disabled list for the second half of the season, Baker will have quality options for the late innings.
But he has tried all those options, and while, say, a youngster like Glover may yet grow into the job, the Nationals may not want to take that chance.
Since they turned a corner on Opening Day 2012, only one team (Dodgers) has won more regular season games than the Nationals. But they've yet to win a postseason series. Their window is still open, but it won't be forever.
Bryce Harper is 18 months from free agency. Ryan Zimmerman is 32 and having a career year. Jayson Werth is in the final year of his contract.
In Max Scherzer, the Nationals have an ace's ace capable of carrying a team deep into the playoffs. What the Nationals do not have -- the only thing they do not have -- is that proven arm to pitch the ninth inning. Rizzo will almost certainly have to overpay to get that arm.
This feels like the right time to do just that. It wouldn't just ease the sting of losing one of baseball's best players for a couple of months. It would also change the narrative. After a day like Thursday, that might be as important as anything.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.