WASHINGTON -- Three weeks ago, the Nationals made a statement by keeping their talented yet underachieving roster together at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in the hopes of a turnaround leading toward a postseason push. The results on the field in the weeks that have followed, however, have not offered much
WASHINGTON -- Three weeks ago, the Nationals made a statement by keeping their talented yet underachieving roster together at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in the hopes of a turnaround leading toward a postseason push. The results on the field in the weeks that have followed, however, have not offered much to justify that decision. At the Deadline, the Nats were a game under .500, the same record they owned on Tuesday, when in a surprise reversal, they made a pair of trades that all but declared they believe no turnaround is on the horizon.
The teardown of the 2018 Washington Nationals began when the team traded second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and first baseman Matt Adams to the Cardinals right before the start of a three-game series against the Phillies, one of the teams ahead of them in the National League East. In exchange, the Nationals received Class A Advanced infielder Andruw Monasterio and a player to be named from Chicago, while Adams was shipped to St. Louis for cash considerations.
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The Nats made these moves Tuesday to help create "financial flexibility" going into 2019 and beyond, according to general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo, and the team will save a little more than $5 million for the rest of the season.
Although another club -- the Dodgers, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman -- reportedly claimed Bryce Harper off revocable trade waivers as well, the Nats held on to their superstar slugger. Rizzo declined to get into detail on how much discussion they had on a potential Harper trade, but he emphasized a deal would have to make a lot of sense.
"I had no fear of being traded," Harper said Tuesday.
Rizzo would not rule out the possibility of making more moves before the month is complete, although a trade for Harper seems unlikely. After listening to offers for Harper at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Rizzo eventually emphatically declared he was staying put, and the Nats pulled him off waivers Tuesday as well after the claim. But it seems likely the Nats will explore trades for other players with expiring contracts, such as left-hander Giovany Gonzalez, first baseman Mark Reynolds or perhaps one of their relievers -- like Kelvin Herrera or Ryan Madson -- if they can prove they are healthy.
"If a deal makes sense for us in the future, to help us in 2018 and beyond to facilitate the one-, three-, five-year window to keep us competitive for the long term, we certainly will think about it and address it," Rizzo said. "But it has to be the right deal. If it's not the right deal and doesn't make sense for us long term, it doesn't get done."
The Nats promoted infielder Adrian Sanchez and outfielder Andrew Stevenson from Triple-A Syracuse to fill the two vacant spots on the roster. They also activated Herrera from the disabled list while placing Tommy Milone on the 10-day DL with left shoulder soreness.
Washington finds itself in this unfamiliar situation after beginning the season as heavy favorites to win a third straight NL East title. It has vastly underperformed those expectations thanks to a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness, plus the emergence of the Braves and the Phillies.
The Nationals considered trades at the Deadline, but Rizzo said they decided to take a chance on this roster even as their postseason odds decreased steadily. Then, the Nats went 2-5 on a crucial seven-game road trip against the Cubs and Cardinals and followed it up by dropping two of three to the Marlins this past weekend at Nationals Park.
As team owner Mark D. Lerner penned in a letter to Nationals fans: "When something isn't working, you evaluate the situation and take the necessary steps to improve it. You don't just stand by, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, in this case, that means making very tough decisions about our roster."
"We're definitely not in an ideal spot. We had a chance a couple times to gain some ground and couldn't really string together many wins in a row," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're still a decent ways out. By no means are we done. It's like you said, if you want to call it the business side of it, call it whatever you want to call it. We had many chances to go on some runs and just couldn't pull it together in the last couple weeks."
Since the start of the 2012 season, the Nationals have been one of the most successful franchises in baseball, capturing four of the past six NL East titles while accruing the second-most regular-season wins in the Majors behind the Dodgers during that span. The biggest stain on the Nationals' resume during that run has been their inability to win a postseason series, falling in the NL Division Series on four separate occasions.
This season was supposed to be the last chance at a World Series run for that core.
Murphy, who arrived in 2016 as a free agent and transformed into one of the best hitters in the Majors, is set to be a free agent again at season's end. Adams had been a major contributor this year in a platoon with Zimmerman, but he will also be a free agent at the end of the year. Combine that with Harper's much-anticipated free agency, and these Nationals will look different in 2019 than they did this season.
Rizzo has repeatedly rejected the notion that that means the proverbial window is closing, pointing to the amount of talent still signed for next season -- Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg - and the wave of young players to supplement them, including 19-year-old Juan Soto and top prospects Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom. Wilmer Difo will also get a chance to play second base every day with Murphy gone.
Either way, the Nationals began unofficially ushering in a new era on Tuesday after deciding they had got all they could out of this team in 2018.
"As far as being a consistent winner, we've shown we're capable of doing that," Rizzo said. "We keep hearing about this window that we have that is closing that I could never understand with the talent base that we have, with the youth that's being infused into this ballclub, with the veteran presence we have.
"We think we're going to be a competitive ballclub for a long time. The Lerner family has given us the resources to facilitate these things. … We don't see that changing. We see this ballclub as a team that has a great big league nucleus, both youthful and experienced, and a farm system and scouting and player-development system that is second to none."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.