Things look so bad for the back-to-back defending National League East champs, who were two games under .500 (49-51) and 7.0 games back in the division before Wednesday’s 7-3 win in Milwaukee, that Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was asked twice if he would consider trading 25-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, who’s set to hit free agency this winter unless a deal to keep him in D.C. is agreed upon at some point before then.
“A lot of things go into that question,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in his weekly visit to the show.
“That’s a question that is tough to answer,” he added, noting that, “... it would have to be something spectacular — a [spectacular] set of circumstances for us to do that.”
106.7 the FAN’s write-up on the exchange noted that Rizzo didn’t say he wouldn’t trade Harper. What did he say?
”We’re going to do what we have to do to better this team for 2018 and beyond,” Rizzo told the Junkies.
“Harp’s one of the superstars of the game and he’s a guy that is near and dear to my heart personally, and is in Washington, D.C., and one of the great players in the game.”
“Is this the kind of team that should be selling its many walk-year players,” New York Post columnist Joel Sherman asked in an article on Wednesday, “notably its biggest star?” He asked Rizzo that question.
“My first response is [Harper] is part of the furniture,” Rizzo told Sherman via phone, and he described the 2010 No. 1 overall pick as, “... a superstar who we drafted, signed, developed and had blossom into a star with our uniform on,” so, he said, “... something extreme would have to happen for us to consider moving him.”
Barring something “spectacular” or “extreme”, however, it doesn’t seem likely that the Nats are going to deal their center/right fielder, who’s going to get a lot of money in free agency this winter even with the .216 AVG he has on the year (along with a .363 OBP and a .475 SLG, 14 doubles, 25 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 80 walks) in 99 games and 432 plate appearances.
But Rizzo was also realistic about where the Nationals find themselves with 61 games left in 2018, telling the Sports Junkies before Wednesday’s game, “... we’ve got about two and a half months left of baseball and 62 games with a 7.0-game deficit, I get it,” while noting, “I think Fangraphs has us at a 33.6% chance of winning the division.”
He also said that in spite of their play, and, “... by some act of God, we still have some type of puncher’s chance to win this division and I think we’re going to grasp onto that and run with that and see if we can put together a string of games that puts pressure on two really talented but young teams ahead of us in the Braves and the Phillies.”
The Nats are, after all, “... a team that’s done it before, two years in a row National League East champs, four out of six years National League East champs, and this is going to be a new challenge,” Rizzo said.
While the Nationals won the division by 20.0 games in 2017, 8.0 in 2016, and 17.0 games in 2015, that isn’t going to happen this time around.
“It’s going to be a grind,” the GM told the Junkies, “it’s going to be a dogfight till the end, and we’ll see what we’re made of at the end of this thing and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’d rather have it in a different way, believe me, I’d rather have the season going in a different direction and have an easier road to be the three-time National League East champions, but hey, this is baseball, the big leagues. It’s not easy to win in this league. I think maybe we took that for granted a little bit in the clubhouse, in the GM’s box, in the owner’s booth, and in the fanbase.
“It’s tough to win in this league, and there are other teams that are trying just as hard as we are, and what we’ve done here for the last 6-7 years has been outstanding but we’ve got to continue doing it and continue winning games and pull this thing out and be the National League champs for the third year in a row.”