With the swirl of the non-waiver trade deadline behind us, we’re afforded an opportunity to step back and mull the moves that have been made.
On the one hand, the trade yesterday that brought in Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs makes perfect sense, especially for the Cubs. With one last chance to freely add pitching to a group that has seen its share of ups and downs already this year, there was no reason for the Cubs not to make another addition, both to bolster the bullpen and also to hedge against the continuing short outings by the starting pitching staff.
And, on that same hand, the deal made superficial sense for the Nationals, who have bullpen depth and also are over the luxury tax cap. Kintzler has a complicated contract that pays him $5 million this year, and then there’s a $10 million team option for 2019, or a $5 million player option if the team option is declined. So, by trading him, the Nationals could save extra money this year, and also be rid of the possibility that Kintzler returns next year for $5 million if they didn’t want him.
But, like I said, with the swirl of the deadline – and the fog of being up for 35 to 40 hours straight – I started thinking some more about how the Nationals’ deadline played out. There were all the rumors about a clubhouse in disarray, and then the front office supposedly having deals lined up to trade away rentals – including Bryce Harper – before ownership pulled the plug, ostensibly demanding that the team be kept together to try to compete.
Why would you trade away a very good reliever at the deadline – to another NL contender, no less – just to get a fringe prospect and save a little money? If you were trying to win, does that make sense? Kintzler, himself, said he was shocked by the trade.
The Nationals publicly justified the deal by saying they had other relievers, internally, that they wanted to create room for.
Maybe, but two lines slid into two different Washington Post accounts of the the Nationals’ deadline decisions make it seem like there was more to the Kintzler trade than baseball considerations. Or at least that’s what the Nationals want to try to put out there.
- Line one: “They could have dealt relievers Kelvin Herrera — the piece they added in June — or Ryan Madson, but trading those players, also free agents-to-be, would have lessened this team and not significantly improved the 2019 or 2020 versions. Kintzler was shipped out because the Nationals believed he was responsible for anonymous reports that painted Washington’s clubhouse culture as iffy.”
- Line two: “But [Kintzler] also rubbed some people the wrong way because he was willing to speak his mind more than others. Perhaps that was a factor in the Nationals’ decision.”
So, the implication here is that the Nationals chose not to sell, but decided to dump Kintzler because he was an outspoken guy whom they believe also fed information to the media about dysfunction in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
Would the Nationals really dump a good player for a minimal return for that? Well, consider that the Nationals just this morning designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment because his antics in last night’s game. With the Nationals up 25-1 on the Mets, he was asked to pitch the 9th inning, in which he gave up a few runs, slamming his glove to the mound and staring into his dugout at one point. The implication of his actions was that he was pissed to be pitching in a blowout like that. So the Nationals immediately dumped him, despite the fact that he’d come into the game with a 2.59 ERA.*
Consider that the Nationals did that even after trading away Kintzler, in a year they’re now still dead set on competing. It makes it all the more odd, doesn’t it?
Then there’s another layer: the Nationals justified, publicly, the trade of Kintzler by saying they preferred to swap him out with Wander Suero, a reliever who could go multiple innings and give them longer outings. Well, Suero pitched in that very game, but was pulled after just 29 pitches, leading to Kelley having to pitch the 9th. It all makes you scratch your head a bit.
So, then, what to make of all of this? Especially in light of credible reports that things were not great in the Nationals clubhouse?
Well, my guess is that there were a variety of reasons for the Nationals to make the Kintzler trade, and it’s awfully convenient for them – after the fact – to float this idea that they didn’t like that he was speaking to the media about the clubhouse (a clubhouse that, according to many sources of Jeff Passan’s, was “a problem”). Kintzler, by the way, denied in a radio interview that he was any kind of source for the article, saying that he’d never spoken to Passan, and Kintzler says that Passan said his source was not even a player. (UPDATE: And Theo Epstein just told ESPN 1000 that Passan confirmed to him that he’s never spoken with Kintzler. So, yeah, this all feels pretty suspect from Washington.)
Most importantly, what’s the impact to the Cubs? Well, nothing. Outside of the fact that they may have gotten a really good reliever for a lower price than he should have commanded in trade otherwise. There’s no allegation here that Kintzler is a “bad clubhouse guy,” and, to the contrary, Sean Doolittle – one of the best dudes in the game – told the Washington Post that Kintzler was going to be missed in the clubhouse, specifically.
Kintzler will be joining an excellent, fully functional and harmonious clubhouse, and he’ll be welcomed with open arms at a time when the Cubs will need his contributions. Thanks, Nationals, whatever the real reason.
*If you’re wondering now about Kelley, keep in mind that he’ll have to go through waivers to be moved. He’s making $5.5 million this year, and it’s possible that this incident will also not engender him to teams. I tend to think there will be a team higher in the waiver priority (worse record) than the Cubs that would want him, but I suppose we’ll see. It’s not *impossible* that he could reach the Cubs or clear waivers, and then hey, maybe he wants to join his mate with the Cubs. As far as coordinating the roster to make that happen, boy, it’d be a challenge, even if Brandon Morrow and Anthony Bass are out for the entire month of August. I think it could be done, but I don’t want to go nuts here in a footnote. If something comes up on this, we’ll cover it.