In July of 2012 the Nats were playing great baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs.
In July of 2013 the Nats were finally healthy and struggling to get back in the playoff picture
In July of 2014 the Nats were playing middling baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs
In 2012 - August 3rd - the Nats dealt David Freitas to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki and cash to cover remaining 2012 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.
In 2013 - July 8th - the Nats dealt Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs for Scott Hairston and cash to cover some of the remaining 2013 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline*.
In 2014 - July 31 - the Nats dealt Zach Walters to the Indians for Asdrubal Cabrera and cash to cover his remaining 2014 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.
Notice anything similar? Only one deal made. A minor leaguer of little to no consequence dealt. Most importantly - the Nats always got cash back. Why is that important?
Aroldis Chapman - due almost 3 million
Craig Kimbrel - due over 3 million
Jon Papelbon - due almost 5 million
Tyler Clippard - due over 3 million.
The Nationals don't seem to get a lot of deals made. You can rationalize that if you want. In 2012 the window was opening - there was no impetus to deal young players for an old player. In 2013 the Nats were rather far out of the Wild Card and would stumble going into the deadline making deals closer to the end of July look foolish. In 2014 the Nats, much like this year, seemed to have the talent to separate from their next best competitor, they just didn't yet.
However, rather than rationalizing each year with a separate reason, it makes more sense to look at the thread going through all of them. The Nationals don't add salary for the current year. Hairston was the only one who didn't cost the Nats $0 in their current year. He only cost 1.5 mill or so AND the Nats got 500K for the following season. Also - the Nats would actually end up dropping the payroll later by dealing Suzuki.
This fact alone naturally limits the type of deals they can make, explaining both the low number of deals and why these deals lack the impact you might expect from a contender over three seasons. Teams may throw in salary for a good player but either you have to up the prospect (Zach Walters was at least on the outskirts of propsect radars) or you have to eat other money. For both Hairston and Suzuki the Nats were committed to paying them the year after the deal as well. It wasn't a lot for the following year but it was something.
If this holds up - what does this mean for the Nats at this trade deadline? Clippard isn't owed anything in 2016. To get him back and pay nothing the Nats would have to up the prospect. Papelbon isn't technically owed money for 2016... yet. There's a vesting option that he's in line for right now, but not so obviously in line for that the Phillies couldn't weasel out of it. The Nats are helping the Phillies out if they take him in a deal, but more out of a difficult situation than eating money. So the Nats would have to up the prospect, maybe not as much as with Clippard but somewhat. Either one then would be a pretty good prospect.
Chapman will be owed money in 2016 - he makes 8 million now and is due for arbitration, making a 12 million due not unlikely. So Chapman in theory could be had with cash without causing the Nats to up the propsects needed. Problem is of course the current asking price for Chapman is very high. Not upping it doesn't mean that much. Kimbrel is owed the most. 11 million for 2016 and 13 for 2017 plus a million buyout in 2018. His current cost is high but not as high as Chapman. That makes Kimbrel the most likely target for the Nats. Of course right now they supposedly asked for Turner so the cost isn't low, it just isn't the current asking price for Chapman.
The other possibility is rather than getting cash, getting the other team to take Fister or Desmond, two guys making a lot and not likely to sign next year, back in the deal. Desmond would be pretty unlikely. Despite the fans turning on him, the management never did (and luckily never were in a position to) and he seems to be coming back into form. The Nats need pop more than any other offensive attribute and that's what he gives them. Fister though... if Strasburg is healthy you have to like Ross at least as much as Fister. So Fister could go. But it would be just like asking for cash. The effect on the prospect asked in return would be the same.
In the end I can't bet on the Nats do anything of note. They haven't in 3 other seasons. This season is different though - being at the end of a window - so maybe that spurs them on, but I have to put a lot of weight on what we've seen so far. But if they do do something, what could it be? I still think Rizzo tries to pull a deal - decent prospect for a good young relief arm (potential Storen replacement). Maurer in SD, Blazek in MIL, Smith in SEA. Something unusual this time of year, getting a young guy from a team dealing. But the Nats have some SP depth - certainly enough to toss Cole into any deal. Sure wish he didn't look like crap and have a history of teams being half-heartedly behind him. The other option would be getting Uehara or F-Rod, both owed money, but not an onerous amount, in 2016, from their prospective clubs. Uehara especially is interesting and the Red Sox just want live arms and the Nats have that.
So there you go - have me bet on one thing? Uehara in to fill in that 8th inning role for say Cole and some A ball guy (Pivetta)? Voth+?
*Later in August - far after what I would consider the deadline - they'd do the funky DeJesus deal where they got him just to flip him. They'd also give up and send Suzuki back to the A's.