In the last two days, the Washington Nationals have relegated two fan favorites to lesser roles on the team and discarded two others. It’s part of the unfortunate part of the business. Fans get attached to certain players for their personality or willingness to engage fans, then see those heroes leave the organization unceremoniously when a better or different or cheaper option comes along.
This winter, it’s all about maximizing the roster for a legitimate World Series run, as it should be. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt when a fan favorite is pushed out of a job or off the team altogether.
The acquisition of closer Rafael Soriano Tuesday pushes Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard each up one inning in the pecking order, if not placing one or the other squarely on the trading block. On Wednesday, the other shoe from re-signing Adam LaRoche fell: the Nats traded Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners in a three-team deal with the Oakland A’s in a trade that had most of the fan bases for each team complaining they didn’t get enough in the deal.
And in a lesser publicized deal, Jesus Flores signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers, officially ending his tenure with the Nats.
Nationals fans essentially grew up with Morse, Flores, Storen and Clippard. All have been around long enough to go through some dark times with the team. The fact that the team was new, building a fan base, and that all four of these guys are genuinely good people contributed to them all becoming fan favorites and seeing them traded, allowed to walk away from nothing or moved into less significant roles now that the stakes have been raised is tough to take, even if it means the Nats are a better baseball team for it.
There’s a popular phrase that “you root for the laundry”, meaning in this era of sports, with free agency and frequent injuries and an ever-increasing emphasis on the bottom line, players rotate in and out of the lineup and roster so quickly and are so isolated from the fans that root them on that the fans don’t get to know them or their personality before they’re ushered out the door for someone better, younger or cheaper.
Nats fans have been lucky so far in the franchise’s history in D.C. that hasn’t been the case. Generally, with a few notable exceptions, the Nationals players have been friendly, outgoing and willing to interact with the fans and community. That’s why it’s so hard to see a player who is often injured, with very obvious flaws in his game and no position available like Morse go. He put himself out there. He showed his personality. He Tweeted with fans. He used the cheesy marketing slogans in a non-ironic manner and let folks know that he cared. (See photos).
You think people in New York, or Boston, or Philly get to know the players like that? No chance in hell.
Yeah, Nats fans have been spoiled thus far. But as the team gets better on the field and expectations are raised, you can’t make decisions based on personality or accessibility. In the end, the goal is to put the best team on the field. All you can do at this point is trust — or hope — Mike Rizzo’s decision making is sound. This team is as talented and deep as any in the game and he’s tweaking this roster in hopes that they make last year look like the stepping stone that so many in the game believe that it was.
It’s tough to see good guys like Morse and Flores go. They’re two of the real good ones. But it’s the price of getting good.