Speaking with reporters in the nation’s capital earlier this month, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo discussed a dual path approach to the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline, explaining that which path the club took in the end would depend on how the team performed in the lead-up to this year’s July 30th deadline.
“We’ll have our lines in the water on the buy side,” Rizzo explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“We’ll also prepare some type of sell scenario if we have to.”
If they couldn’t get back into the race in the NL East or Wild Card, Rizzo said, and the team turned, “into definite sellers,” then, “everything [would] be on the table.”
With losses in 16 of 22 games this month, the decision on how to approach the deadline was clear, and talking to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday, (before the team announced that four players tested positive for COVID, including Trea Turner, who was pulled from Tuesday night’s game), Rizzo talked realistically in describing what his approach was 55 hours away from Friday’s 4:00 PM ET deadline.
“I’m excited to attack this trade deadline” Rizzo told the Junkies. “It’s not the attack mode I want to be in, I like to be aggressive, I like to be buying, I like to be putting final pieces of the puzzle into winning a World Championship, but this is as important. We have to get our ducks in order and we have to make good, intelligent trades and deals to retool this thing to get back in the hunt and win some more championships, that’s our goal.”
But the good, intelligent trades and deals, are going to be aimed at 2022, because it’s not looking like it’s going to happen this season, with Fangraphs giving the Nationals a 0.9% chance of making it to the postseason this year, and FiveThirtyEight giving them a 5% shot.
“You don’t have to be Casey Stengel to figure that out,” Rizzo said. “We’re not playing well enough to go out and acquire players to help us in the short-term for this run. We’ve got to look at this on a global level and see where we’re at as an organization, where we have to improve to be the consistent winner that we’ve always been.
“That’s our job and our goal, and let’s not forget, when we came into this thing we were winning 59 games and year, and since 2009 we’ve won more games than anybody in baseball except for the Dodgers and maybe the Yankees, so we know how to do this thing, we know how to retool on the fly, we always want to be competitive, our ownership is very, very competitive, they give us the resources to do really good things, and we’re going to make good prudent deals at the deadline to improve our organization and our ballclub, and our goal is to win now, it always has been and it always will be, but also with an eye on the future to build a sustainable winner.”
Acknowledging the reality of their situation now, Rizzo said, is important, and necessary.
“There’s no shame in taking a step back after a decade of winning, competitive baseball, winning more than any other team in the league, except for a couple of teams, and winning world championships, and division titles, and Wild Card wins and all of that stuff, there’s no shame in taking a step back and retooling this thing with our view to win next year and the years beyond.”
Of course, as manager Davey Martinez explained recently, that doesn’t mean that his club is going to stop fighting and trying to win as many games as possible, to see where things will end up after 162 games.
“Let’s just go have fun,” Martinez said earlier this week.
“And I spoke to a lot of guys yesterday about, ‘Hey, I’ve seen a lot of games in my life, I’ve seen a lot of pennant races, and not by any means are we out of it.
“I mean, I’ve seen teams come from 11.0 games behind, 14.0 games behind, and end up winning the division, so keep pushing, because anything can happen. Just keep pushing, keep playing baseball, let’s just go out there and have fun and do the little things.”
The Nationals are currently 8.0 games back in the NL East and 11.0 back in the NL Wild Card race, however, so Rizzo and Co. in the front office have to do what’s prudent.
“We’re certainly going to be sellers,” Rizzo said, “and open-minded about all players that have a contract that ends this season. We won’t have those players with us next season anyways, unless you re-sign them, which is always a possibility, but you look at the core group that we have right now that would be returning next year, you’ve got Josh Bell at first who’s having a terrific [season] — after a poor month that started crazily with the COVID [outbreak] — we had those 11 players that missed the first 10-12 days of the season and then it took them about three weeks to get going. He’s been rolling after that, he’s been terrific for us.
“You’ve got Trea Turner, you’ve got Victor Robles, [Juan] Soto, you’ve got our young players, [Carter] Kieboom, I know everyone is down on Kieboom, but he’s a 23-year-old player that’s still liked in the industry, and you’ve got a 21-year-old Luis García, [who’s] hitting .300 with 12 HRs in Triple-A and younger than probably 80% of the players that were drafted in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft. That’s a good core group of position players.
“You’ve got a rehabbing comeback situation in [Stephen Strasburg], I’ve seen [Patrick] Corbin, whose velocity is back up to 94-95 in the last handful of starts, hoping he gets back on track, and then you’ve got [Joe] Ross, [Erick] Fedde, and the young guns that we’re going to have to count on in the near future with the [Cade] Cavallis, and [Cole] Henrys, and [Jackson] Rutledges, and [Tim] Cates, and [Seth] Romeros and that group of starters.
“You sprinkle that good core group of our own players in and then you go out to the trade and free agent market and we’re here to compete, we’re here to win championships, that’s what our goal will be next year and we will attack that when the time comes. Right now is trade deadline time, we’re locked and loaded to help the franchise, and it’s going to be an exciting couple of days.”