Nats all in on 'World Series-caliber' revamp

Washington wins first post-Deadline contest after making 6 trades

July 31st, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The goal to win another World Series in Washington, D.C., has never wavered since 2019. As Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo assessed the team nearing Friday’s Trade Deadline and he did not see championship contention on the horizon this season, the Nats made moves to best align themselves for their future.

Major, franchise-altering moves.

“When I took a step back and made that look, I didn't see a path to be a World Series-caliber team this year,” Rizzo said. “So I felt it was time for us to take a step sideways to allow us to take a step forward and get back to where we're supposed to be, which is a championship-caliber organization."

The Nationals completed six transactions in less than 48 hours leading up to the 4 p.m. ET cutoff, swapping eight veterans in exchange for 12 young talents. They pulled off a historic megatrade, unloaded seven expiring contracts, maximized the return for an All-Star’s remaining deal and added 10 prospects to their Top 30 Prospects list, per MLB Pipeline. Then, they regrouped and beat the Cubs, 4-3, with players eager to seize new opportunities.

When all was said and done, right-hander Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner were sent to the Dodgers for catcher Keibert Ruiz (Nats’ new No. 1 prospect), righties Josiah Gray (No. 2) and Gerardo Carrillo (No. 10) and outfielder Donovan Casey (No. 27); left fielder Kyle Schwarber to the Red Sox for right-hander Aldo Ramirez (No. 11); closer Brad Hand to the Blue Jays for catcher Riley Adams (No. 13); Daniel Hudson to the Padres for righty Mason Thompson (No. 16) and infielder Jordy Barley (No. 28); catcher Yan Gomes and utility man Josh Harrison were sent to the Athletics for catcher Drew Millas (No. 24) and right-handers Richard Guasch (No. 30) and Seth Shuman, and southpaw Jon Lester was sent to the Cardinals for outfielder Lane Thomas.

The Nationals bolstered their farm system -- which was ranked 30th by MLB Pipeline at the start of this season -- without having to part ways with any of their prospects, including emerging right-hander Cade Cavalli (No. 3, No. 1 pre-trades). They also maximized their opportunity to receive value on expiring deals, and capitalized on the Dodgers’ interest in acquiring Turner with multiple years remaining on his contract. Rizzo described Ruiz and Gray as “big league-ready players.”

“Obviously, the players with the expiring contracts are the most tradeable players that you have, and we really like the prospect base that we amassed by trading those people,” Rizzo said. “They were very popular on the trade market, and we're excited about what that brought us and how quickly it can help us rebuild into a championship-caliber [team] again."

As the Nats sent their veterans around the league, they kept a 22-year-old powerhouse on their roster. The picture of slugging right fielder Juan Soto as the centerpiece of the organization became even clearer. Soto can become a free agent after the 2024 season, and inking him to a lengthy contract would solidify the Nationals’ foundation for their future with his newly-acquired teammates playing alongside him.

“I like to say we have a long-term deal with him now: it's a three-year long-term deal,” Rizzo said. “That's a good thing, to have an excellent player on your team for three years. Obviously, Soto is a benchmark type of player. He's the core of our team, and we would be remiss if we didn't aggressively try and sign him long-term.

“I think it's an important part of what our plan is, and like I said, when this trading class, and the last couple of Draft classes and trading seasons come together, these people will be the core of that world championship-caliber club, with Juan Soto as our linchpin. He's as important a part of this franchise as anybody."

In the shorter term, the Nationals will be driven by players embracing their new and increased roles. On Friday, Paolo Espino improved to 3-2, starting on short notice following the Lester trade. Reliever Gabe Klobosits also made his big league debut, and Kyle Finnegan stepped in as closer for the save.

“I know we lost a lot of good players [and] I think moving forward, it's going to be a little tougher for sure,” manager Dave Martinez said pregame. “But I think moving forward, we’ve still got some really good pieces, and we got some young pieces that are going to help us win in the future -- and in the near future. We got to remember, we just got to get by and continue to focus on today. … Not by any means is this organization going to give in.”

The Nats went 1-0 following the Trade Deadline, and they intend to tally more Ws with their new approach for their future.

“We started this thing in 2009, way below where we're at today as far as organizationally, and it took us three years to win 98 games,” Rizzo said. “We have a great plan in place. We got great people out in the field, scouting and developing our players. We've got a great Major League staff and a good stable of players that are going to impact the big leagues in the near future. So you never put a timetable on it. I'm a restless person and I don't like to lose, and we're not going to put up with losing for too long."