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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo on trade deadline approach: Step back, refocus, reboot...

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Mike Rizzo explains the Nationals’ approach to the trade deadline and all the expiring contracts he dealt away...

By the time the trade deadline passed at 4:00 PM ET on Friday, the Washington Nationals had traded away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Brad Hand, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, and Jon Lester. In return for the expiring contracts, and a year-plus of Trea Turner, the Nationals received a prospect bonanza, 12 total, that will form the basis of the next championship-caliber team GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the front office in D.C. are planning on building.

“Yesterday was probably as tough a day as I’ve had as a General Manager,” Rizzo said in a Zoom call with reporters shortly after the deadline passed on Friday.

“The good thing about this group,” he said of the players the Nationals traded away, “is that we’ve got everything out of this group that we could have got out.

“And we reached the highest levels. For ten straight years we’ve competed with the best and brightest in all of baseball. We were as good as anybody in the game.

“We won four division titles, we’ve been in the playoffs five times. We won a World Series with this group, and 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.

Rizzo said the impetus for the club’s approach at the deadline was a sober assessment of where the organization stood as they got closer to the end of July.

“We felt that looking at our talent-base in the big leagues, after all the COVID situations, all the injury situations, and the performance on the field, that it was time to take a step back, reboot this thing, and build us another championship-caliber baseball team.”

“The players that we acquired today at the trade deadline, 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, to win a World Series, win a ring. I wore it today to remind myself that’s the goal.”

As Rizzo explained, the organization knows how to go about this process, because they’ve done it before.

Asked how long he imagines this reboot is going to take, before the club is competing for division titles again, Rizzo said he wasn’t going to put a timetable on it, but he said that he doesn’t think it will take long.

“The remnants of this trade deadline, the last trade deadline, the last couple of impactful drafts that we had, will be the core of this next world championship-caliber club,” he said confidently.

“We started this thing in 2009 way below where we’re at today, as far as organizationally, and it took us three years to win 98 games. So, we have a great plan in place, we’ve got great people out in the field, scouting and developing our players, and we’ve got a great major league staff, and a good stable of players that are going to impact the majors in the near future.

“You never put a timetable on it, but I’m a restless person and I don’t like to lose, and we’re not going to put up with losing for too long.”

Having done it before, he explained, after taking over as the GM in 2009, Rizzo and his staff have an idea of what it takes, and lessons to pull from as they try to do it again.

The biggest takeaway from ‘09 that he can apply today?

“Stay true to the plan,” Rizzo said.

“It’s a tried and true plan. It’s scouting, player development, analytics, combined, and you have to follow the plan, and you have to be patient. And patience doesn’t mean losing, believe me, patience means we know what we’re doing, we’ve got a plan in place to not only win in the near future, but to sustain excellence throughout a decade and that’s what I learned in ‘09 and that’s what we’re going to employ here in ‘21.”

While it looked in June like the club might actually turn things around, a 7-17 July in the lead-up to the trade deadline led to the decision to take the path Rizzo and Co. in the front office did this week.

“You’re always evaluating the team,” Rizzo said. “You’re always evaluating where you’re at, and injuries happen in this game, and different aspects kind of have hurdles along the way, and I don’t know if there’s a game or a moment or an instance that says to you, ‘Okay, time to sell.’

“I think it’s — you evaluate this thing every day, I’m there with the team every day and you have to take stock, and take a step back and look realistically.

“What can I do to win this division, to get in the playoffs, and give me a chance to win the World Series? And when I took a step back, and made that look, I didn’t see a path to be a World Series-caliber team this year.

“So I felt it was time to take a step sideways, to allow us to take a step forward and get back to where we’re supposed to be, which is a championship-caliber organization.”

Having traded off their expiring contracts, will the Nationals now be aggressive on the free agent market this winter as they fill the holes created by the moves they just made?

“We’ll see where we’re at as far as where our prospects in the minor leagues are,” Rizzo said.

“It’s always a balance of everyone coming to the big leagues and impacting the big leagues at the right time, so you don’t want to — you saw what we did the last time we rebuilt this thing into a championship organization. Right before the impact at the big leagues, when our young players came to fruition, and we became a really good team, we went out and made some impactful free agent signings, and I think that’s the best way to kind of combine the two, is grow your own, develop your own guys, and when they become ready for impacting the big leagues, then you go out and get your guys to finish it off.”