While the Nats roll merrily along, two of their NL East rivals have made interesting moves. The Phillies have decided to re-sign, rather than trade, Cole Hamels and the Marlins have dealt three of their better players, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and Hanley Ramirez. A lot of people are taking the view that the Phillies are dumb and have doomed themselves to non-relevance in the near future, while they are looking at the Marlins as "same old fire sale Marlins". I don't buy it.
In 2010, the Phillies defined their window by signing Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, and extending Roy Halladay. The "end year" would be 2015. They were committed to keeping a core of talented players until that year and they verified this again by paying Papelbon a dump truck of money to pitch for them until the same year, and keeping Jimmy Rollins around for the same amount of time. The rebuilding process is already in the plans, but beginning (if necessary) at the end of 2014, not now. By letting Hamels go they'd be starting a rebuilding process two years early, meaning a talent exodus that wouldn't end for 3 seasons. A slow and painful death followed by the unknown that is rebuilding from within. Often rebuilding DOESN'T lead to success - you don't get Mulder, Zito and Hudson all developing; you don't get back to back generational talents when you have the #1 pick - often it leads to a middle ground of mediocrity. You could cross your fingers and hope you make enough smart moves and get lucky enough that in 2016/7 you are good again, or you could roll with a very talented team for a few more years.
By signing Hamels, they remain committed, at least for one more season but probably 2 or 3, to the window they had set up for themselves. The team itself is finally back together and is 7-3 in the last 10. You'd be rolling into next year with a rotation with Halladay, Hameles, and Lee (not to mention a pretty good Vance Worley) and a lineup with Howard, Utley, Ruiz and Pence at it's heart. That is a team that last year won over 100 games, that is very well still a playoff team. Yes it means expecting a lot health-wise but that's what you have to hope for to have plaoyffs years, or did you not notice that the Nats top 4 starters have been healthy all year?
As for the Marlins the gamble was that the team would be good enough to compete this season. Bring in Reyes, bring in Buehrle and get yourself a pennant race. Didn't happen, so now what? The minor leagues for the Marlins is pretty bare. There was little help coming, especially in the rotation. You could keep trying to throw money at this, watching as most of your starters go over 30 and into oblivion or you could pull the rip cord now. The Marlins best players, and one of the best players in the league, is Giancarlo Stanton who is 22. He is a special player. The new plan has to work around him, because you don't know when you'll get another like him. Get as many major league ready prospects as you can and cross your fingers that they work out. That's what they've done. Eovaldi and Turner are ready for long looks in a major league rotation, Brantley might be ready to catch at the major league level next season. Get lucky and maybe these guys can help you out right away. The likely "worst case" though is that they are all major league players for as long as you have Stanton. Along with their top prospect, OF Christian Yelich, they could be the kind of cheap filler that you can then work around signing guys in 2015 or so to fill in the holes.
This isn't a fire sale. This isn't a team that could compete right away. It looked more like a team looking to hover around .500 for a year or two until it crashed back down. By jumping the gun and grabbing guys that look to be part of a Stanton led team a couple years down the road, the Marlins have given themselves hope that they'll be as relevant as they wanted to be in 2012 in some year not too far down the road. .
What does this means for the Nats? Well it means the Phillies are going to try to compete for the NL East for the next couple years, and if the Marlins get a little lucky with who they get back in these deals, they could be good right when the Phillies can't avoid entering a decline phase. The Nats were on the verge of looking at an NL East that would be the Braves and them competing for as long as this current team is intact, with everyone else being also-rans. Instead they get a legit contender (assuming health) for the next couple seasons, and a possible one for the couple after that. The Nats talent would continue to make them the favorite, but their margin over error doesn't get any larger.