By Chris Lingebach

WASHINGTON — Mike Rizzo has been steadily improving his Nationals club leading into this year’s trade deadline.

With the additions of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Howie Kendrick in recent weeks, the Nationals have in fact improved as a club while minimizing long-term deficits in each deal.

But the heavy scrutiny won’t come until afterwards, once that 4 p.m. Monday deadline has passed — Did the Nationals do enough? Should they have done more to improve their pen? Are they deep enough to win in October?

(Let’s all conveniently ignore that deals can still be made after the deadline.)

All of these questions — to be scrutinized to the nth degree for weeks and months after — are what keep personnel executives up, hammering the phones for potential deals, making sure no stone is left un-turned, in the days and weeks leading up to the last waning seconds of that deadline.

How will Rizzo be judged long after the 2017 deadline? Did he appropriately weigh his club’s short- and long-term needs? Was he too reluctant to make that last deal, the one that could have been the difference between a trip to the World Series and another NLDS ouster?

How he will ultimately be judged in these defining moments can be determined by one simple variable: the passage of time.

As humans, we tend to overly focus on the here and now, what’s in front of us this second.

But in Rizzo’s reality, this year’s deadline matters no more or less than last year’s or the next, just as it’s no more or less important than any of the Nationals’ 2009-2011 drafts, the results of which yielded nearly a quarter of the organization’s current 40-man roster (Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, A.J. Cole, Bryce Harper, Sammy Solis, Matt Grace, Stephen Strasburg and Michael Taylor).

From that perspective, a Major League GM is forever against the clock. So imagine the frustration one might have when a columnist is still harping on the Strasburg Shutdown five years later.

Speaking of which, here’s how cruel time can be to legacies.

The 98-win Nationals were appropriately viewed as a breakout team which had come into its own ahead of schedule. At the time, there was no need to panic over a roster full of young stars — who were playing above their heads — coming up short in the postseason. The sky was the limit for their future.

And yet, the club’s two postseason appearances since have fomented a haunting reality: 2012 was their best chance to win it all.

So consider these points as you stalk MLB Trade Rumors today. And, when you ask yourself whether the Nationals did enough, realize this is a question Rizzo & Co. have asked themselves daily, for years, not just on July 31, 2017, and that it requires far more thought, introspection and planning than your everyday deadline contrarian regurgitates on Twitter.

Also consider, by whatever failed thought process that contrarian arrives at his/her conclusion, it may also be entirely correct.

And for the love of everything, when you hear ‘they’re building for 2018’ as some version of an excuse for deadline inactivity, realize it’s perfectly fair to point out the 2012 Nationals.

Look down this year’s roster and you’ll see a larger collection of players having career years than any iteration of the club since 2012.

And it still may not be enough.

The point is: We have no idea how time will judge Mike Rizzo and his dealings, or non-dealings, on this latest trade deadline. But we know how it’s judged his past dealings. They’ve resulted in three division titles and no postseason success.

Those are accomplishments worth praising, to be sure. But we probably shouldn’t expect anything better, until proven otherwise by time.

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter

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