is Zobrist. For Cole. Make it happen
The Nats optimist in that deal sees it this way: Zobrist comes in, has another all around great year (it is a contract year and he's still before the "worry years" of 35+), the Nats win about 4 more games then they would have without him putting them in line for 100+ wins and home field advantage. Cole meanwhile shows you why he was traded twice and keeps getting passed by other prospects on the Top "#" lists, floundering in the back of rotations with AAAA stuff like a Kyle Kendrick.
The Nats pessimist in that deal sees it this way: Zobrist comes in and declines because he IS 34 and maybe nets the Nats an extra win or two amounting to nothing for a team with an easy road to a division title. Meanwhile Cole blossoms into a solid middle of the rotation pitcher giving the Rays another low cost guy to keep the machine moving forward.
The most likely scenario is something in the middle but I don't care which way the pendulum swings. I want it done and I'll tell you why. It's time to stop asking the Nats player to do something the front office won't.
Everyday they ask that you're players give it their all. Try as hard as you can on the field to win the game in front of you, then the next one, then the next. Keep it going until you are taking homestands, divisions, series and finally the whole thing. That's what they expect.
The Nats front office, though, has tried to have it both ways. They've tried to win this year while setting up the next for more of the same. It's easy to see how that translates to less than 100% effort for the seasons in front of you. Shut down Strasburg, gotta have him for the next few years.* Sign random vets for the 5th rotation spot, we don't want to be stuck with the back-end of a big contract that could hurt flexibility later. Make middling in-season trades, we don't want to lose guys with years of control. None of these in itself will derail a post-season but they all say the same thing "Your job is to try to win it all. Our job it something else."
It's often said that the sabr world doesn't believe in things like momentum and drive and clubhouse spirit, etc.. That's (mostly) false. What is believed is that these things exist but are impossible to quantify so it's hard (impossible?) to consistently build with those things in mind. That's what I think. At this point though the Nats aren't building. They're built. And the front office has a chance to show the team they are all in for 2015 too. Will that help propel the team to win it all? Maybe. I don't know. But I know it's what I want to see.
The best thing about this plan is the Nats CAN do it. They can sign ZNN and Stras (not my money!) and have a rotation, assuming Giolito shows up in 2016, Roark is at least functional and of course injury luck, that's one of the best in the NL through 2020. Cole is not Bryce Harper. He is not Lucas Giolito. He is not Anthony Rendon. He's not even Michael Taylor. The Nats don't need him to have success in the next 3-5 years.
Make the deal. Go all-in. No half-measures.
*Which I agreed with by the way. I'm not saying this is all wrong but it's wrong NOW.