Second baseman Daniel Murphy was making his way through the Nationals clubhouse about one hour after it was announced he had been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He was in his civilian clothes with a backpack on his back. He was talking and shaking hands with now former teammates and team personnel.
Nationals clubhouse manager Mike “Wally” Wallace was taping together moving boxes and placing them by Murphy’s locker. Two lockers over from Murphy’s, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman addressed the media about the state of the 62-63 Nats after the blockbuster news was dropped that the Nats had traded Murphy to the Cubs and first baseman Matt Adams to the Cardinals.
“We’re definitely not in an ideal spot,” Zimmerman said. “We had a chance a couple times to gain some ground and couldn’t really string together many wins in a row. We’re still a decent ways out. By no means are we done.
“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.”
Zimmerman went on to say he is never surprised by moves that are made in professional sports. He also said he still has confidence that the guys in the clubhouse will fight until the bitter end to turn the season around, however more bleak the outlook may have become now that one of the Nats’ best hitters and another potent utility bat are gone.
“We still have a really good team in this room. We have some young players who have played well and will get a chance to play some more,” Zimmerman said. “So, you always have to stay positive. There are going to be games to go out and play every single day, so we are going to try as hard we can to win each game and kind of go from there.”
Manager Davey Martinez described the pulse of the team as resilient after the moves were announced. He said there still is fight in the remaining players.
Usually, when a pair of top producers are traded this late in the season it’s a message to the remaining roster that ownership has lost confidence and is ready to turn the page to the next season.
“What’s funny is I’ve had guys already come into the office and I don’t think I need to convince them,” Martinez said. “They know what we’re playing for and they’re all in. We knew this coming in here, today’s a big game, so they’re fired up about playing today.”
Slugger Bryce Harper, who was reportedly selected on revocable waivers himself before the Nats pulled him back, doesn’t believe the trades signal the end of ownership confidence in the club despite their struggles this campaign.
“I don’t think that. I don’t think ownership gives up on us at all,” Harper said. “If they were going to give up on us it would’ve been a month and a half ago. Those two trades that those two guys that have helped us all season long. But there are guys are going to come in here and get the job done for us.”
“We still got a great lineup, great staff. Getting Stephen Strasburg back, hopefully soon, and a couple of our bullpen pieces back as well. We just got to battle, keep going and keep playing ball.”
And what about those rumors of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ interest in acquiring the 2015 National League MVP? Did Harper think he was also going to be playing for a new team tomorrow?
“I didn’t think I was going leave at all or move at all. I think, for me, it’s coming into the clubhouse every single day and trying to win ballgames and do the things I can to help this team win on a daily basis. I think I’m part of this organization, I’ve been part of this organization for seven years. I look forward coming and doing my job every single day. I had no fear of being traded or let go on waivers or anything like that.”
The revocable waiver deadline arrives on Aug. 31. Starting tonight, the Nats have six of their next nine games against the Phillies, one of the two teams they are chasing as they try to stay in the division race. Is it surprising then that the Nats choose the eve of this huge series as the moment to trade Murphy and Adams?
Zimmerman understands that this decision wasn’t just based on what the Nats were looking to accomplish.
Other teams, like the Cubs and Cardinals, are in a tooth-and-nail struggle for the National League Central division. The Cubs lead the Brewers by three games, the Cardinals by 3 1/2 games.
“I have never really been in those situations with what (general manager Mike Rizzo) and those guys have to deal with, but I am assuming there are certain windows, time frames, where other teams also want to have those players,” Zimmerman explained. “(Those interested teams) basically say ‘Hey, we need these guys now or we’re going to move on,’ so you have to make a decision.
“I think the deadline is the deadline, but I would assume there are other deadlines before that, according to other teams, because they are trying to make moves as well. But yeah, I mean, nobody thought we were going to show up today and have people traded. But that’s the way it is.”
On the field and in the clubhouse, Murphy made a profound impact on his now former teammates. In two and a half seasons with the Nats, he hit .329 with 99 doubles, 54 homers and 226 RBIs. With the Nats, Murphy connected for 413 hits in 342 games. There is a strong argument that the Nats were never able to get consistency going on offense with Adam Eaton and Murphy out for extended periods of time to begin the season. That lack of consistency hurt their chances to get on a roll to slow down the surge of the Phillies and the Braves.
“He has been great. One of the best teammates I’ve ever played with,” Harper said. “Great guy, great human being, on and off the field. You know what you’re going to get out of him every single day. To be able to come back from a tough injury like that, be able to perform like he did for us over the years, it’s been pretty incredible. He’s definitely going to be missed in this clubhouse, and all the best to him going to the Cubs.”
Zimmerman appreciated how Murphy worked to improve his defense at second base and did not just rest on his lethal bat to carry his game. He said Murphy battled all season to try to get back to 100 percent after offseason microfracture knee surgery.
“Obviously, I think he did some unbelievable things here,” Zimmerman said. “I was talking with him the other day how I envied the way how he kind of worked and became an above-average defender, I think. It was always that he could hit, that’s what everyone said, and really felt that he worked hard. Especially before the knee thing, was playing a really good second base.
“He worked really hard this year to get that knee back to what it is now. It wasn’t easy, what he had to go through. Obviously, a really good teammate and wish nothing but the best for him.”
Zimmerman said his club will not give up, despite the ominous mountain that lies in front of them in their attempt to gain a playoff spot.
“It was all right in front of us, and it still is right in front of us,” Zimmerman said of the Nats’ current predicament. “No one is sitting here saying this is over, because we’ve been in that situation where you have an eight- or nine-game lead and you don’t feel safe until there is that ‘E’ next to everyone’s name. So, we’re going to continue to play hard and go out to compete each night.”