The Nats lost out on Sale. This is not that unexpected. I twice almost said something like "Why aren't the Red Sox doing something? They need pitching and can afford to lose a couple prospects." but didn't. What a fool Past Harper was! Turns out the Red Sox were putting something together that featured what might be the consensus #1 prospect going into next year in Yoan Moncada.
The initial reaction was very much "The White Sox would want Moncada instead of Robles AND Giolito??!?!" This of course completely ignores the second part of the deal for the Red Sox, Michael Kopech who made as many pre-season Top 100 lists as Nats favorite Reynaldo Lopez. He's a legit prospect, not just a name added. So Moncada+ vs Robles, Giolito+ might draw question marks but Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolio+ shouldn't.
And yet it still does with some of you doesn't it? You think "That's like two Top 20 guys at worst, Two Top 10 guys at best. Kopech isn't climbing THAT much" but you ignore a basic truth about rankings. The further you get from the middle the more distorted things tend to get. It's not hard picking the best and worst, it's hard distinguishing one middle from another. If you are ranking 100 things it's very likely that the difference between 1 and 2 and 99 and 100 are much greater than the difference between 49-50-51. Now the back end doesn't actually come into play when we're talking about minor league rankings since we're pulling 100 out of thousands. But the top part is there.
Think about minor league rankings the same way you think about the draft. The #1 guy almost everyone agrees on. The #2 and #3 are pretty clear, etc. etc. By the time you even get to #10 though fuzziness reigns. Your 10 might be someone else's 7 and another person's 19. And much like a draft I'd bet a lot of money that expected future performance drops off quickly when talking about these lists. This is all just a long winded way of saying if you have Moncada at 1 and Giolito at 5 and Robles at 15 you are likely saying you like Moncada A LOT more than Giolito who you like A LOT more than Robles. If Kopech was at like 50 in this scenario I'd bet his expectation would be a lot closer to Robles than Robles' expectation would be to Moncada's. And that's the reason the White Sox take the deal.
Now Barry noted this morning that Lopez might have also been thrown in. To me that does give the Nats the edge.. assuming there's still that "+" there. We've never heard of others though. And if you are going Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolito, Lopez well I can see sticking with deal #1. Is that too much for the Nats to deal for Sale? Honestly probably not. If you get Sale you are assuming then your rotation is set for three seasons. Scherzer, Strasburg, Sale, Ross, Roark. None would have to go anywhere before Sale and Roark would be up for FA after 2019. What happens to Lopez and Giolito in the mean time there? Probably just get dealt for someone else. Yeah I know - they'd be great depth! But at some point being depth just serves to hurt their trade value, getting older and not getting any experience. Better to trade sooner rather than later. And if you are thinking "well Lopez moves to the pen!", congrats, you've likely decimated his value and put him in a new position where he may not succeed. I'm sure it would happen that way, him being shifted to relief, but you can't assume he'd just click become a dominant reliever. It doesn't work that way.
The other deal the Nats lost out on was for Melancon. He got a lot of money 4/62 from the Giants. It's too much money. The Nats don't ever spend too much money. That is great but it can also be a problem. We've noted before how it's super easy to go from terrible to bad, easy to go from bad to below average, hard to go from average to good, and very hard to go from good to great. All these changes may effect your teams success in the same way but the costs rise as you move up the scale. To gain a win at the bottom of the scale might be throwing in a decent minor leaguer contract player in place of one that should be out of the game. To gain a win at the top of the scale means bringing in the best at his position. This works individually but can also work at a team level as well. The Nats are looking to move to good to great. One place they could improve over pre-trade deadline Nats is at the closer position. They don't have control of every part of the market. The closer position is at a premium right now. So to improve here the Nats have to pay a lot.
I'm not saying they should have done the deal. I honestly am not sure they should have. I don't think I would have. But I do think that the reality of going from good to great as a team is that you are going to be looking at bringing in very good talent somewhere and it's likely in FA that talent will be overpriced. If you can't bring yourself to make that kind of deal then you limit yourself to waiting for a steal that may not come about, trying to make a trade that you may not be able to pull off, or hoping for a break-out that probably won't come. The surest method of improvement is throwing money at a good player. Don't committ to that and you are left with less sure ways of improvement and hence less sure improvement.
But again if this is all depressing to you the Nats won 95 games last year. Improvement means solidifying that mid 90s status as best they can with an eye toward winning a playoff series by maximizing talent in key places. No improvement means be expected to win in low 90s and compete for a NL East title as likely favorites (unless the Mets do something more) while understanding the most driving force in playoffs is beyond your control. We can rail against inactivity but we shouldn't get so wrapped up in it that we act like it's all or nothing. It's alot or more than alot.