- - Tuesday, July 31, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Well, there must be a lot of disappointed Washington Nationals fans. Their team didn’t raise the white flag and surrender the 2018 season.

The momentum to break up this underachieving 2018 Nationals squad built over the final days before Tuesday’s trading deadline, as fans clamored for trades that would bring the gold bullion known as prospects. It was as if fans couldn’t wait to see the new 22-year-old outfielder at Potomac instead of the major leaguers that essentially are the same ones that won the National League East last year with 97 games.

For whatever reason, the Nationals said no to trading veterans for prospects (save for the deal that sent Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs for minor league reliever Jhon Romero). Monopoly money, really, given how many of these prospects in deals wind up being good major league players. It’s a longshot to hit on that special player — a longer shot, I would venture, than the Nationals coming back in these final two months of the season and making the playoffs.

That’s the gamble worth betting on.

In particular, they said no to any trade of their soon-to-be-departed free agent Bryce Harper. Despite all the hot speculation that the team was putting Harper on the trading block, the 25-year-old Home Run Derby champion said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo assured him on Monday that he would not be traded.

“Rizzo … yesterday and early this morning made it known that I was going to stay here and that I was going to be here,” Harper told reporters Tuesday afternoon at Nationals Park. “Rizzo’s one of the best GMs in all of baseball and I think he’d be straightforward with me if I was going on the block or anything like that. It goes to show how good our relationship is.”

Again, the right move, despite the nervous Nellies who have already said goodbye to 2018, as if the notion of watching their team try to battle back from 5½ games behind the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves — or, heavens, compete for a wild card — was too much to bear.

The Nationals have had a front-row seat to division-leading collapses not that long ago. In 2007, the New York Mets led the NL East by seven games with 17 left. They lost 12 straight, including a 1-6 homestand against the Nationals, Cardinals and Marlins and the Phillies wound up winning the division.

There was no Manny Machado-like haul to be had for Harper, who everyone knows would be a two-month rental at best.

“We had several discussions with several teams. We did our due diligence on Bryce,” Rizzo told reporters. “We believe in the squad we have. We feel on paper we are as good as any team in the league.”

We’re not sure exactly who “we” are. There were reports that Rizzo wanted to dismantle the team for prospects, but was denied the opportunity by the owners. There were also reports that the Lerners wanted a salary dump of the veterans, but Rizzo didn’t want to give up on the season.

For those weak in the knees, there will still be opportunities to surrender. Trades are made after the trading deadline passes. The Houston Astros traded for Justin Verlander last year after the deadline passed. The Nationals acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki after the 2012 trade deadline. If the mountain becomes too steep to climb and the Nationals continue to wallow in their own failures, they can still say “uncle.”

But at this point of the season, whoever wanted to stand pat, for the most part, and see this thing through — good for them.

This has been an underachieving team throughout the season under rookie manager Dave Martinez. But they remain within striking distance of two teams in the division that have been untested in pennant races. I’ve seen plenty of 120-game season teams that, like a fighter in the championship rounds, fade in the end. The Braves and the Phillies may be two of those teams. We don’t yet know. It’s certainly not worth throwing the towel in yet — not with the talent on this roster.

“Just by being on the other side for years and now being here, they’re (the Lerners) not quitters,” Martinez said. “That’s what the message is: We’re not going to quit. And they’re not. It’s good for us, good for the clubhouse.”

We shall see. It is worth the look. After all, Ted Lerner is 92 years old. He may not be particularly interested in prospects at this point.

Thom Loverro’s weekly Wednesday podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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