The Washington Nationals aren’t mathematically out of it, but with just over a month of baseball left, they are sitting 7.5 games and 6.0 games out of the division lead and wildcard spots, respectively.
Barring a miracle, they will once again fall short of their lofty expectations of (at least) making the playoffs and competing for a championship. The death knell sounded on Tuesday when the team traded Daniel Murphy and Matt Carpenter, and were at least engaging in trade talks for superstar Bryce Harper, who was reportedly claimed off trade waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Harper didn’t up moving, but the Nationals have offloaded a ton of expiring or soon-to-be-expiring contracts, including relievers Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelly. To make matters worse for the team’s championship aspirations, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madson, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Weiters are all going to be free agents this winter — along with Harper, of course, who is the biggest fish in the free agency market.
The fire sale looks to be an indication that Washington has given up, and will attempt to start a rebuild. However, general manager Mike Rizzo doesn’t see it that way.
“We keep hearing about this window that is closing that I could never understand with the talent base that we have, with the youth that is being infused into this ball club, with the veteran presence that we have,” Rizzo said, according to MASN Sports’ Mark Zuckerman. “We like the team we have in 2018. We like the future rosters that we have in place beyond that, and we think we’re going to be a competitive ball club for a long time.”
“I still think today we have the talent base to play competitive games at the end of the season, realizing I know what the standings say and what the calendar says. But the talent level in that locker room is still great,” Rizzo said.
He’s not completely wrong, but there’s still an element of undeserved optimism in his comments. Ace pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are under contract until the end of 2021 and 2023, respectively. Young superstar Juan Soto is just 19-years-old and Adam Eaton has three more years left on his current deal. So while the future isn’t depressingly bleak if you’re a Nats fan, it’s not exactly bright either.
Team owner Mark P. Lerner was a little less cheery when explaining the wave of trades:
“… I believed in this team, and would have loved to see them all play healthy together this season. However, the time has come for us to make decisions that will bolster our roster for next season and beyond. This is about giving us some roster flexibility, giving us the opportunity to see some of our young talent, and seeing if we can still find a combination or two that could spark a difference.”
If Bryce Harper leaves this winter, the Nats might as well burn it to the ground and start over.