When the clock reached 4 p.m. and it was all said and done, the Nationals had traded away eight veterans off their 2021 roster, four of them key contributors to the club’s World Series title only 21 months ago. In their place will come 12 prospects of varying pedigrees from six other organizations, all of them now trying to win this season while the Nats begin a rebuild they hope is neither too long nor too painful.
In the final moments before this afternoon’s deadline, general manager Mike Rizzo officially completed three more trades. He finalized the blockbuster deal agreed upon Thursday night that will send Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers for four prospects. And he shipped off the only three remaining veterans on expiring contracts, dealing Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison to the Athletics for three prospects and Jon Lester to the Cardinals for a 25-year-old outfielder.
All told, the Nationals will take the field tonight for their series opener with the also-rebuilding Cubs without eight big names who were with the club Thursday morning: Scherzer, Turner, Gomes, Harrison, Lester, Kyle Schwarber, Daniel Hudson and Brad Hand.
“These aren’t just assets that you acquire. These are human beings that I have great affinity for. I know all these guys personally,” Rizzo said in a Zoom session with reporters. “It’s been a tough couple of days. And yesterday was probably as tough a day as I’ve had as a general manager.”
It’s a massive sell unlike any the club has performed since arriving in town 16 years ago, but it’s one Rizzo and managing principal owner Mark Lerner determined was necessary to give their franchise a chance to contend again within a few years after now missing out on the postseason the last two seasons following its 2019 championship run.
“We got everything out of this group that we could’ve gotten out of it, and we reached the highest level,” Rizzo said. “For 10 straight years, we’ve competed with the best and brightest in baseball. We were as good as anybody in the game. We won four division titles. We made the playoffs five times. We won the World Series with this group. There’s no shame in having to take a step back, refocus, reboot and start the process again, and that’s what we’re preparing to do.”
The blockbuster transaction remains the trades of Scherzer and Turner to Los Angeles for four young players, including the Dodgers’ top-two rated prospects (catcher Keibert Ruiz, right-hander Josiah Gray). That deal, agreed to in principle Thursday night, was finalized this afternoon and announced by both clubs, with a statement from Lerner included in the Nationals’ press release.
“Today is heart wrenching as we say goodbye to two of the most accomplished players and two of the best people in our team’s history,” Lerner said. “On behalf of my family and the entire Washington Nationals organization, I want to thank Max and Trea for their invaluable contributions both on the field and in the community, where each have been selfless with their time and resources over the years. Trea’s electric combination of speed and power brought so much excitement to games at Nationals Park, and the three games in which he hit for the cycle will always live in Nationals lore.
“As for Max, I think I speak for Nationals fans everywhere when I say that it has been the highest privilege to watch him give everything he has on the mound every fifth day, pitching through anything and everything to help our team win. I have said many times that he is the greatest competitor I have ever had the pleasure of watching. From the two no-hitters to the 20-strikeout game to Game 7 of the World Series, Max has rightfully secured his place among the all-time greats in D.C. sports and Major League Baseball history, and it will be an honor to watch him get inducted into the Hall of Fame one day.
“Without Max and Trea, we never would have brought the World Series trophy back to the nation’s capital and had that joyous parade down Constitution Avenue. The Nationals organization is forever grateful for their excellence on the field and exemplary leadership in the clubhouse, and we wish them both nothing but the best in the next chapter of their careers.”
Rizzo said there were a number of potential trades involving Scherzer and Turner together and separate, with several other clubs. Scherzer’s ability to veto any deals to clubs he didn’t want to pitch for - a right he earned after 10 years in the majors, the last five with the same team - limited the Nationals’ options to some extent, but Rizzo believed packaging him with Turner (who can’t become a free agent until after the 2022 season) created the best possible return in prospects from the Dodgers.
“We maximized Trea’s value because of where we’re at as a franchise, and Trea Turner with two playoff runs in him and 1 1/2 years is way more valuable than a Trea Turner that’s got one year before free agency,” Rizzo said. “That was the biggest reason that went into the decision-making process. The Dodgers specifically were very intrigued by Trea, having him for more than (as) a rental player. And I think you saw we benefitted from the prospect package because of the length of the contract he had left.”
The Nationals see Ruiz as their long-term catcher, similar to how they felt about Wilson Ramos upon acquiring him in a similar deadline deal for reliever Matt Capps in 2010. And they see Gray as a big-league-ready starter who will probably be pitching in D.C. very soon.
“They’ve proven themselves at the minor-league level,” Rizzo said. “We think they’re impact type of players.”
The trades of Schwarber to the Red Sox, Hudson to the Padres and Hand to the Blue Jays all were announced Thursday. That left Rizzo with enough time to make two more deals in the final hour before today’s deadline, dealing away three more veterans.
Both Gomes and Harrison were enjoying standout walk years, with Gomes batting .271 with nine homers, 35 RBIs, a .778 OPS and a majors-leading 15 would-be basestealers thrown out from behind the plate, while Harrison hit .294 with 23 doubles, six homers, 38 RBIs and an .800 OPS while playing all around the field.
Millas, 23, was rated the Athletics’ 13th-best prospect by Baseball America, a switch-hitting catcher drafted in the seventh round in 2019 out of Missouri State. He was batting .255 with 12 doubles, three homers, 28 RBIs and a .731 OPS in 59 games at high Single-A Lansing this season, throwing out 38 percent of baserunners.
Guasch, 23, rated as Oakland’s 30th-best prospect after the Cuban native signed as an international free agent in 2018. The right-hander had a 4.67 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 29 walks in 54 innings for Lansing, most of them as a starter.
Shuman, 23, also was pitching at Lansing, where he posted a 2.25 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 62 strikeouts and 15 walks in 56 innings, most of those as a starter. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2019 from Georgia Southern.
The last move of the day came right at the wire, with Rizzo sending Lester to the Cardinals for outfielder Lane Thomas. It was a bit of a surprise, given Lester’s struggles this season (5.02 ERA in 16 starts) and St. Louis’ current position 9 1/2 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central.
But the Cardinals were willing to part with Thomas, a 25-year-old outfielder who has spent parts of the last three seasons in the majors. The right-handed hitter hasn’t shown an ability to consistently hit at this level - in 142 career plate appearances, he’s batting .172 with five homers, 15 RBIs and a .625 OPS - but he had better numbers in the minors and could yet prove to be a solid fourth or fifth outfielder.
At the end of all that, the Nationals are left with a shell of the roster they had only two days ago.
“It’s been tough to say goodbye to everybody,” manager Davey Martinez said, tearing up. “But these guys all have a special place not only here for the city of Washington and the Nationals fans, but definitely a special place in my heart. I’ll miss these guys, but we’ll have a special bond, especially the guys that were here in ‘19.”