We are now one-third through the 2012 season. I know, it kind of feels like more, doesn't it? The Washington Nationals remain in first place and I don't know how someone could deny that this team will be in the playoff hunt all year long. The harshest criticism you can lay on the team is that they've been a .500 squad, 18-18 to be precise, since their hot 14-4 start. I don't buy that exactly (the 18 games at the beginning matter, too) but I'll concede that as constructed during that time they might be a .500 team. So what? Just because they went 14-4 doesn't mean they are going to go 4-14 at some point. No, being .500 from here out means finishing the season 86-76 and that's certainly in the playoff hunt. That's not taking into account the possible improvments from returning players like Morse, Storen, and Werth. Outside of injury or freak disappointments in the remainder of the year, the Nats will be in at least a hunt for a WC.
With that being said - what do the Nats do? It's hard to deny that this whole thing has been set up for 2013 to be the year the Nats make a serious run. They didn't make any major signings to help a blah offense. They weren't necessarily planning on brining up Bryce this early. They were planning to shutdown Strasburg at some point. 2012 was a practice run and if they managed to stay in the hunt and sneak into the playoffs, great. But all of a sudden it's not practice. It's real. The Nats could easily grab a WC, and could even take the division. They could do it without making another move but a little bit of bad luck, like honestly 2 or 3 games just break the wrong way, and the Nats could not make it. Do they shore up their chances now? And how do they do it?
Almost every possible move is a gutsy one that forces changes that you might not be happy with. They need a CF. You've seen Bryce in the field. He's got a great arm but he can be real awkward out there. The other option Werth isn't going to age gracefully if you put him in center. But you can't get a CF in 2012 because now means forcing Morse or LaRoche out of the lineup. You could deal for a MI. None of Ian, Espy, or Lombo is irreplaceable. But they've all shown flashes of major league talent and they are young, cheap and controlled for a while. That's the type of player Rizzo wants to keep. Plus bringing someone in means not playing two of these guys (though you'd have to figure one would go in the deal). You could deal for a starter, in part to keep with the plan of sitting Strasburg. You'd probably get them a bit early so Wang or whoever would lose their spot but you'd have to be ok with that right? But Rizzo prefers to develop his own starters. True he traded for Gio, but Gio was a special case. Again: young, cheap, controlled. And a starter is nice, but they are less impactful than a bat and it's not like anyone thinks the pitching is a problem.
With no clear move it's quite possible they do nothing. You can envision a season where they keep up this + or - 2 games from first dance until the trade deadline and Rizzo pulls a "Getting Werth back is like making a trade!". Like I said they could easily still make the playoffs doing nothing, but that would feel like the move of a team one year away, wouldn't it? And even though it seems like the Nats will be a serious playoff contender in 2013, nothing's a given in baseball. What if Gio and ZNN get injured? What if Bryce has a sophomore slump and Werth reverts to 2010 form? The iron is hot now, shouldn't they strike it?
This is a nice dilemma to be in, what to do when you are a year early in your plan to make the playoffs, but it still is s dilemma. Trade and move a couple pieces you were interested in looking at for the whole year? Stretch Strasburg out or bring in someone to help? Fans only care about results and if the Nats do nothing and get nowhere, they won't be happy.