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July 20, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

Nationals’ best deadline deal was the one they didn’t make

With trade season upon us, I’ve seen a couple of posts about the team’s best deadline deal ever. I’m going to remind us that maybe the best deal was the one they didn’t make.

In July of 2006, Alfonso Soriano was headed into free agency and was having a career year. By the All-Star break, he’d hit 27 home runs and was hitting .272 with 56 RBIs, 63 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases. As a free agent, everyone knew that he would command an expensive multi-year contract and that the Nationals weren’t going to try to retain him. The rumors were flying fast and furious as the trade deadline approached.

And then… nothing happened. Soriano wasn’t traded. He stayed in Washington and finished even better in the second half, completing a 40-40 season. The Nationals lost 91 games.

Of course, the fans were in shock. How could Jim Bowden fail to cash in Soriano when his value was at its peak? “Incompetence!” the masses howled.

But by trading Soriano, the Nationals would be giving up two compensatory draft picks. They decided that the cost was too high, relative to what was being offered. And how did those draft picks work out? The first one went for Josh Smoker—didn’t work out so well. But the second was used to pick a pitcher from Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point. That pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, has worked out very well indeed. He’s been the most reliable and valuable pitcher during the Nats’ time in Washington.

Of course, without knowing what deals Bowden turned down, we really can’t know that the draft picks were better than the alternative. But if the offer that he turned down was Kevin Slowey, as one story has it, then waiting for the draft to get Zimmermann was far more valuable than the trade.

Of course all draft picks (as well as trades for prospects) involve an element of luck, so we shouldn’t give too much credit to Bowden. But in terms of impact on the organization, the trade we didn’t make may have been the best one of all.

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