Back in 2002, Jonah Keri wrote a column at Baseball Prospectus entitled "The Success Cycle." The piece is particularly relevant now in light of the recent major deals by small- and mid-market clubs.
A quick summation of the concept is as follows: "The cycle is a baseball continuum on which every team resides. To measure a team's place in the cycle, assess its talent in the majors and minors. Can the players in the organization, mixed with a few trade acquisitions and free agents the team could reasonably sign, yield a competitive team? More precisely, can the team expect to compete while its current core of major league players remain productive and under contract?"
No transaction better exemplifies two teams on opposite ends of the "success cycle" than the Kansas City Royals trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers for four cost-controlled youngsters. The Royals, who have the best farm system in baseball, can see their window for success is 2013-15, knew that Greinke would leave as a free agent before then and decided to deal him while his value is still high. The Brewers, on the other hand, have a powerful offense and mediocre starting pitching, and since general manager Doug Melvin knows that first baseman Prince Fielder and second baseman Rickie Weeks will likely leave next offseason via free agency, he decided to go all in for this season. Using the "success cycle" as a guideline, this trade makes perfect sense. Some teams' maneuvers aren't nearly as logical, however, which brings us to the Washington Nationals.
To put it succinctly: What are they doing?