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Washington Nationals Trade Deadline Preview: What will Nats look like tonight?

Will Juan Soto and Josh Bell be Nationals at 6:00 tonight? How about Nelson Cruz? Who are you expecting will be traded?

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Davey Martinez has experienced this from all angles. As a player, a coach, a manager. He has seen it all, and as the Washington Nationals’ fifth-year skipper told reporters with one day to go before the 2022 Trade Deadline yesterday, he knows what it is like for fans to wait to see if their favorite players will still be on their favorite team once the deadline passes, and the dust clears.

Last year’s sell-off of expiring deals (and a year-plus of Trea Turner) was a blow, for sure, and this season’s deadline is likely not going to be easy to take either. With Juan Soto’s name on everyone’s lips, and rumors swirling around the 23-year-old face of the Nats’ franchise, and the likes of Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Finnegan, and more serious possible candidates for a trade before 6:00 PM ET today, there will be changes once again.

“You fall in love with players, and you want them to be here forever, and some guys do make it for ever,” Martinez said of the changes in D.C. and in other cities he has been in as a player and as a coach over the course of his career in the game.

“Some guys go on, but just still be a fan. They’re still players, right? So, we’re going to get good players in here, and there are going to be some people that love some of our young guys.”

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The kind of return the talking heads are talking about, if the Nationals are to trade Soto, a mix of major league or major league-ready talent and high-end prospects, could give the organizational reboot a huge boost, as the haul they received last year did, and that is the only way you even consider trading a player like the 23-year-old, with two and a half years of control left before free agency.

Soto turned down a 15-year/$440M extension offer, which kicked off all the trade talk, but as Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week, the Nationals have options at this point. If they get an offer which meets their demands, they can trade their once-in-a-generation talent, or they can hold on to him, try to work out a long-term deal, and see where things go before the end of the 2024 campaign.

“We’re in conversations with Juan Soto, with several teams that I think have real interest in him, also with several other players that have had interest with other teams,” Rizzo said.

“I’m not going to handicap if we’re going to trade him or not. I will say this, we’re going to have to get the deal that we want that makes the most sense, that gets us an opportunity to become a championship organization faster than not trading him, so that’s it in a nutshell.”

“For me, almost — if we do something,” Martinez said, “and I know Mike [Rizzo] and those guys that are working diligently to get us better — if we do do something it is to make this organization better in the long-run. It really is. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it. We’re not going to do something just to do it. So, yeah, on one hand you look at the guys you have now and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, man, they might be gone in [24] hours.’ On the other hand, you’re thinking about the guys you could possibly get back and what they could do to help us here relatively soon, and that kind of inspires me as well, you know, it’s going to stink, don’t get me wrong. Having these guys around, and building those relationships, when they go away it’s tough, but I get to build new relationships with some younger players, and we’ll see where that takes us. It’s hard to say — for me, like — there’s always something else at the end of the road. You’re not going to give away these players and not get something in return that we feel like, hey, this is what our future is going to be and this is going to be really good for us. And those guys up there [in the front office] are working diligently to get those players that we need, if we can get them.

“If not, then we have arguably one of the best young players in the game, and I love the kid.”

The return for trading Max Scherzer and Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers, was a package which included two players who had already debuted in the majors (Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz), a prospect (23-year-old pitcher Gerardo Carrillo) and an outfielder on the cusp of contributing in the team’s collective eyes (Donovan Casey). Martinez said if they are going to make more deals, he would like a similar mix of players in return, and that’s what all the rumored packages include.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“Honestly, for me, I’d like to have both, right? I’d like to have that guy that I know that’s been here [in the majors], and I’d love to have a 19-year-old kid, or 20-year-old kid, especially if it’s like a Juan Soto,” he said with a laugh. “That will be really nice and gratifying, but yeah, it’s a mixture of a lot of different things for whether they’re young or a veteran guy, to have, but like I said, we do have some really young players that you kind of catch yourself — for me I catch myself saying, ‘Oh, man, he’s close, he’s close, he’s close,’ but yet you’ve got to say, okay, for the development part of it, we’ve got to continue to let him grow and let him develop, and not try to push him up here, and honestly, try to get him to teach him here what he could have learned down there. With some of these guys we’re still at that stage, and when they come up here, they’re still going to have to learn a lot, but they’re getting better, and that’s one thing I see every day.”

“We got our Fredy’s [A-ball’s Fredericksburg Nationals] down there that are tearing it up,” he added, “and that’s fun — I keep track of them and they’re swinging the bats, they’re pitching well ... they’re coming back, and they’re learning how to win, and that’s awesome.”

Rizzo too, in an appearance with the Sports Junkies last month, pointed to the Nats’ A-ball affiliates as the next wave of talent in the organization, telling the Junkies when he looked, he saw, “... a system that’s really, really stacked at the A-ball and High-A level, which is important to our timeline, because when you look at the team(s) in Fredericksburg and Wilmington, they’re playing great baseball and it’s fun to see those young kids that are 20-21 years old and really taking that next step with the names of Brady House, and [Jackson] Rutledge, and [Jeremy] De La Rosa, and those are the next guys you’re going to hear about in the very near future [and] that are going to be guys you’re going to be talking [about] them in the same way you talk about the [Anthony] Rendons and the [Bryce] Harpers, and the [Ryan] Zimmermans.”

New York Mets v. Washington Nationals

Martinez talked about seeing this happen before, where a team wins it all with a group of special players, and a few years later things are drastically different, with the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javy Báez in Chicago, where he was the Cubs’ bench coach on skipper Joe Maddon’s staff from 2014-17.

“They came up together, and you thought they had a team to win there for a while, they really did, but then again, this is why we love the game, and we’re passionate about the game, you never know what is going to happen, you really don’t,” Martinez said.

“You look at the flipside, in ‘15, we were built to win, according to everybody, in ‘17. ‘16, you know, but ‘17 was the year that they said, ‘Hey, the Cubs are going to win it all.’ ‘15, we made the playoffs, no one ever thought we were going to make the playoffs in ‘15, you know, and then ‘16 we end up winning, and then ‘17 we went to the playoffs again, and ‘18 — I was here, but you thought, man, every time you looked, you thought this team is going to be in the playoffs, and have a run every year, and it didn’t happen.

“The other side of this is the business side, right? And for me, when I first started coaching, I didn’t really understand that side of it, I still had that player mentality like, “Hey what are we doing?’ But then as I started coaching longer and longer, and I started understanding it, there’s a reason for everything. There really is.

“You’ve got to understand that part of the game. And for fans, it stinks.”