With the 2023 MLB Trade Deadline fast approaching, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters in Chicago, IL, and to Audacy/106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, this week about the club’s approach this time around three seasons into their franchise rebuild.
[ed. note - “Yes, we’re apparently officially calling it a ‘rebuild’ now. They have been for quite a while now, really, but Rebuild, Reboot, Reset, Whatever.”]
The main message from Rizzo this week?
The Nationals are “open for business” if there are prudent baseball moves to be made at this year’s deadline (August 1st).
“I never thought it made sense to kind of hide it from the fanbase with what we’re trying to do,” Rizzo said of the likelihood of another round of the trades of expiring deals we’ve now seen in the last two seasons (2021-22).
“I think being open and honest with what we’re trying to do is better accepted by the fanbase,” Rizzo explained of his own approach to keeping fans appraised of the club’s motivations.
“And I think that they’ve accepted it well the last couple of years. They know what our plan is, we haven’t made it a secret.”
As he told reporters in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois, where the Nats dropped 2 of 3 to the Cubs, if the right trades are there this time around he’s once again willing to deal.
“We’re going to do deals that make sense for us,” Rizzo reiterated. “We have a plan in place, we have a blueprint in place for this rebuild. We’re always open-minded and we’ll always be aggressive. That’s not to say we’re going to move everybody. But if we can move the ball forward in the rebuild process, we certainly will be open-minded to it.”
The key phrase in there, Rizzo told the Junkies, is, “deals that make sense for us.”
“We’re always open for that, no matter what our record is, and this year is no different,” he added, and he also took the opportunity to acknowledge the obvious fact that he’s already spoken with/heard from other clubs around the league, if just for preliminary discussions.
“A lot of the first couple of phone calls are ‘What are you guys looking to do?’” he explained, “… and ‘What’s your general plan?’ and then if there’s a match we’ll get back to them, we’ll get more specific and say to them, ‘Hey does ‘Joe Smith’* fit for you guys as that right-handed pinch hitter you’re thinking about?’ We’re looking for matches from other teams, other teams are looking for matches for us. And when you get a match that works that’s really when the negotiating starts about the actual specific trade.”
[ed. note - “He’s using a generic name, not talking about the generically named former big league reliever. But you knew that, we know.”]
As was the case at each of the last two trade deadlines, players on expiring contracts are prime candidates to be dealt. [ed. note - “See: Candelario, Jeimer.”]
“Everyone on expiring [contracts] — those decisions are fairly easy,” Rizzo said when he talked in Chicago this week, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato.
“That was the decision we made with Max [Scherzer]. That factors into it. You have a good player, a good All-Star-caliber type of player in Lane Thomas, and you have him for two more seasons after this. Sure, that makes it much more difficult to trade. That’s code word for ‘We’d have to get a good return.’”
Thomas has been worth +2.0 fWAR this season, second-best on the team behind Candelario so far, and he’s put up a .289/.337/.482, with 15 homers (two shy of his career high, set in ‘22 in 146 games). Should the Nationals consider selling high on the former Cardinals’ outfielder they acquired from St. Louis at the deadline in 2021 (straight up for Jon Lester)?
As Rizzo put it, when it comes to a player like Thomas, (with two years of control remaining, and playing on a relatively affordable $2.2M deal this year), it’s often a matter of other teams viewing him in the same light as the Nationals see him.
“The tricky part is getting back the value you want for them. I see Lane Thomas as having an All-Star first half of the season. He’s got tools, he’s young and he’s a terrific player.
“If another team views him only as a part-time or bench player, we won’t have a deal. But if somebody views him as the way I view him and the way our staff views him, then we’d have a conversation.”
The conversations and deals the Nats have made over the last two years (and especially the Juan Soto/Josh Bell deal last summer) have moved the rebuild process forward significantly, Rizzo argued, injecting talent that’s making waves throughout the organization.
“I think we impacted our franchise greatly,” Rizzo said.
“I think that we put the rebuild process in overdrive, and I think that we’re further along than if we hadn’t done those two trade deadlines.”