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For better or for worse, the Washington Nationals have suddenly ushered in a new era

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After a big sell-off at the trade deadline, the Nationals have signaled that the franchise is heading in a new direction...

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t enough words, nor are there many worthy enough, to describe the gravity of what the Washington Nationals decided to do as the MLB Trade Deadline approached.

In the space of about 30 hours, the Nationals altered the course of their franchise by trading away eight players from their major league roster. Most notably, Daniel Hudson, the man who recorded the most famous out in franchise history; Yan Gomes, the man who caught the very same out; and sent shockwaves around the baseball world when they traded away Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one fell swoop.

Even though it was expected, it was jaw-dropping how quickly and extensively the Nationals moved in their sell-off. Then the emotions undoubtedly kicked in for everyone involved.

Franchise icons and players who brought a World Series to the nation’s capital, being traded away is tough.

The thousands upon thousands of fans donning Scherzer and Turner jerseys are coming to terms with their favorite player wearing a blue uniform instead of red.

The list of players still remaining from 2019’s World Series-winning team is rapidly dwindling.

Less than two years removed from hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy at Minute Maid Park, nine players remain: Patrick Corbin, Gerardo Parra, Tanner Rainey, Victor Robles, Joe Ross, Stephen Strasburg, Wander Suero, Juan Soto, and Ryan Zimmerman.

“It’s been tough saying goodbye to everybody,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said on Friday.

“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 always have a special bond.”

It’s ok for fans to shed a tear or five right now. Most of the players who were traded away were part of the most special time in franchise history when they won the World Series in 2019 and were part of moments at the ballpark that those in D.C. will never forget.

That’s why we watch baseball. Not for the number of wins and number of losses on a scoreboard, but for the special moments and special teams like the Nats the last 10 years.

Once the emotions are contained, baseball carries on and the Nationals are hoping that, while particularly painful right now, the trades that have been made will serve as the foundation to create more of those memories and special times at the ballpark.

Almost all of the old guard has moved on except Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg who are the last two men standing from when the team burst into contention in 2012. With the former’s age and the latter's injuries, even they may soon fade away gracefully too.

In a disappointing 2021 season, the trade deadline became a sudden transition to a new era for the Nationals, moving on from one generation of players and preparing for the next.

“The players that we acquired today at the trade deadline,” Mike Rizzo explained, “and the last couple of drafts and trade deadline acquisitions we had, will be the core of this next championship-caliber club, and that’s our goal.

“So, our goal is to build one of the great organizations in baseball. We’ve been that for the last 10-12 years, we plan to continue to be that, and our process is tried and true and we expect nothing but excellence.

“And our goal is always to do this,” he said, showing his World Series ring, “to win a World Series, win a ring. I wore it today to remind myself that’s the goal.”

Coming into this season, Washington was ranked at the bottom or towards the bottom of several farm system rankings, emphasizing the barren state of their minor league pipeline.

These trades may vault them into the top 15-20 of those sorts of rankings now with plenty of room to grow if some of the high-risk, high-reward acquisitions work out, plus more to come in next year’s draft where it looks as though the Nats may be picking high again.

Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray, the two marquee prospects received in the Scherzer-Turner trade with LA, will need to be big parts of this turnaround.

They have the upside to be perennial All-Stars and are near-big league-ready whenever the Nationals are ready to call on them.

The Nats will need contributions from the likes of Gerardo Carrillo and Mason Thompson at some point, even if they don’t become foundational pieces.

If they get anything from Drew Millas, Richard Guasch, or Seth Shuman, the prospects from the Harrison-Gomes trade, then that becomes worth it.

However those prospects pan out, the new generation of Nats needs to be led by Juan Soto.

“He’s the guy now that this organization is going to follow,” Martinez stated. “He just has to keep going out there and keep grinding his at-bats like he always does, and play good defense, run the bases the way he’s supposed to run them, and stay positive and he understands that.”

The only player on the team who has appeared in more games for the Nationals than Soto is Zimmerman. In some ways, it’s a passing of the guard from one face of the franchise to the next.

Soto’s presence in the lineup will always sit up and take notice. He’s arguably the best hitter in the game and is a figure others naturally gravitate towards because of his energy and enthusiasm for playing the game of baseball. He’s a joy to watch and be around, exactly the type of player you want to build a franchise around on and off the field.

The dread among fans now is that, after the Nationals have now let Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner leave in three straight years, will Soto be around long-term?

“Honestly, Soto is a benchmark type of player,” Rizzo said. “He’s the core of our team, and we would be remiss if we didn’t aggressively try to sign him long-term. I think that it’s an important part of what our plan is.

“When this trading class and the last couple of draft classes and trading seasons come together, these people will be the core of that world championship-caliber club with Juan Soto as our lynchpin, and he’s as important a part of this franchise as anybody.”

The narrative is that the Nationals don’t pay their homegrown position players. There is one exception to that rule in Zimmerman, the man passing the keys to the franchise to Soto. If there was ever another player to buck that trend and offer a megadeal to, it would be Soto.

In reality, Soto can’t do it all on his own though, which is where the sell-off comes in. Ruiz, Gray, and the rest of the prospects acquired are just the first step to revitalize the roster around their talisman.

For better or for worse, the Nationals have a new direction with their roster, one they are fully committed to from top to bottom after a jarring and emotional trade deadline...