On Monday afternoon, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo traded Jeimer Candelario and cash to Chicago’s Cubs for left-handed pitcher DJ Herz, 22, and shortstop Kevin Made, 20, making another trade of a veteran on an expiring contract to acquire young prospects who can be part of the next competitive team in the nation’s capital.
It’s the M.O. for the Nats at this point of the season, at least in the last three years, as they’ve tried to go through a reboot and reestablish themselves as a contender.
“When we started this, we had a plan,” manager Davey Martinez said in the hours before the deadline passed on Tuesday without any other big moves by the club.
“And obviously, part of the plan is getting some guys here that we thought that, if possible, we can get some young players for,” Martinez said of signing and trading players on one-year deals or parting with players on expiring contracts at the last three deadlines.
“Like I said yesterday,” after Candelario was traded, “... that’s part of it,” Martinez said. “But our plan is to get younger, give our young guys opportunities to come up here and play.
“And yet, as we move forward, watch these guys develop. And so far, so far, so good. We got some guys doing some really good things right now. I could talk about CJ Abrams, how well he’s playing. I could talk about Lane [Thomas]. Lane solidified himself right now as part of the future here, hopefully. We’ll see. But I love him. He could do a lot of different things. I got Keibert [Ruiz], who’s catching most of the time, you got Riley Adams, who’s definitely had an unbelievable year so far.”
All the players listed above were acquired at the 2021 and 2022 deadlines, and all of them are currently contributing at the major league level, and they added plenty of other high-end prospects over the last few years.
“So we got a lot of good young guys, and some of the guys that are coming I’m really, really excited about. Some of the core guys that we got in Double-A that are doing well, we’re excited about those guys. So the plan seems to be progressing and progressing quite quickly. I don’t think that we’re that far off. We’re playing, we compete here every day and the guys are going out there and playing hard. So I love that about them. So we’ve got to continue to go and continue to get better.”
There have been some setbacks, and hiccups along the way, but the organizational plan has, as the manager said, progressed quickly, but that was part of the plan all along, with Rizzo and Co. in the front office, and Martinez and his staff on the bench, looking to turn things around as quickly as possible once they decided they needed to hit the reboot button.
“We don’t like losing,” Martinez said. “We really don’t. We want this thing to happen and happen fairly quickly. This organization has been known to win and play in the playoffs. So we want to get back to that as soon as possible. So like I said, we started this thing, we’ve had a plan. The plan wasn’t to wait five, six years. The plan was to try to get it done. And right now we feel really good about where we’re at.”
Candelario was the player most likely to be dealt this time around, but Thomas and reliever Kyle Finnegan were of interest to other teams as well. Rizzo said last week he’d have to get blown away to deal either of the controllable, relatively young players, and in the end there were no additional trades, so does that mean the club thinks of both as part of the future?
“Those are two guys we feel very good about,” Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“We’re very high on both of them. They’re good players, but more importantly, they’re great guys in the clubhouse. They’ve both become leaders in the clubhouse.
“When you’re building a young foundation like we are here, you’ve got to sprinkle in some good, veteran players.
“And those two guys are good players. [Potential trades] never reached the bar we set for each player.”
Martinez said he hoped the fact that both Thomas and Finnegan were still here made clear to them both how much the organization values their talents.
“I hope they see it that way,” he said, “because they’re a huge part of our success. Both of those guys. They’ve been so good for us. I can remember getting Finnegan in the pandemic year. Even then, when I saw him throw, all he needed was a little bit of confidence, and I put him in situations where — big situations for us, where he got double plays for us, he did some really good things, so he knows that he’s very valuable to what we do and what we’re going to do in the future. So yeah, if these guys are still around, which I hope, because I never want to lose anybody, but he’s definitely part of our plan.”
“He was a guy who was struggling when we got him,” Rizzo said of Finnegan, 31, who spent six seasons in the minors with the Oakland A’s (who drafted him in the 6th Round in 2013) with no call to the major leagues, “and our pitching people have developed him into a guy that’s qualified to pitch in the back end of major league games. That’s how far he’s come.”
Thomas, 27, was acquired at the deadline in 2021, in a straight-up trade for veteran lefty Jon Lester, and he’s currently having a breakout year in D.C., so there was some sell-high talk for the outfielder, but in the end, the Nationals decided he’s developed into a player who might help them take the next step.
“I think he’s getting better at a later age than most prospects do,” Rizzo said on Tuesday.
“He’s come leaps and bounds in just the short time we’ve had him here, and become a player we think is going to be part of us when we become good.”
Martinez said it took a lot of work from Thomas and Washington’s coaches to get him here, but he’s the player they thought he could be when they acquired him from St. Louis.
“He’s become the guy that we see that can grind out at-bats, that could drive in runs for us,” Martinez explained, “... could hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he’s playing unbelievable right field for us, and I still think he can play center field for us down the line if need be. But he’s done really, really well, and filled a need for us up in the order by getting on base and driving in some runs for us. He’s been awesome. And I think that comes with a little bit of maturity, and a lot of confidence. He’s got a lot of confidence now, and I think he feels like he belongs here now.”