WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo wore his 2019 World Series ring Friday as a reminder of the annual goal for his franchise.
There won't be another one this season, with only a handful of players still left from that championship won less than two years ago. The Nationals this week traded eight players, and among those dealt to contenders were Max Scherzer, a two-time NL Cy Young winner in Washington, and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.
“It’s a difficult decision to make, but oftentimes a decision is made for you,” said Rizzo, whose team is now near the bottom of the NL East standings. “This year it was, and we recognized where we were and what work we had in front of us. We decided to begin a building process that will allow us to compete at the highest level.”
The complete teardown of that title team from baseball's last full 162-game season came even swifter than that of the Chicago Cubs. In their own selloff before Friday's deadline, the Cubs traded away two of the biggest pieces remaining from their 2016 team that ended a 108-year title drought — Kris Bryant, the NL MVP that season, and popular first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
After the deadline moves that shook up the makeup of both teams, the Cubs opened a series Friday night in Washington against the Nationals.
Washington completed deals with six different contenders, the biggest trade sending Scherzer and Turner to the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Nationals even parted with former Cubs player Kyle Schwarber, who hit 25 homers in his 72 games in his only season in Washington.
While the Nationals did all of their deals over the last two days before the deadline, the Cubs telegraphed their willingness to make moves when sending Joc Pederson to Atlanta on July 15.
But the deconstruction of the remnants of the 2016 club accelerated as the deadline approached. Chicago picked up two prospects from the New York Yankees in exchange for Anthony Rizzo on Thursday, then moved Javier Báez along with Trevor Williams and cash to the New York Mets on Friday for outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong.
“Did a lot of special things in front of a fan base that did not see a World Series in 108 years,” Anthony Rizzo said. “Those moments will never be taken away. The joy that our core group and the team the last six, seven years in Chicago brought a lot of joy to people, not only in Chicago but I feel around the country. We were an easy team to root for.”
Then there was the decision to move Bryant, who will become a free agent after the season. He was shipped to San Francisco just minutes before the deadline for two minor leaguers. That was hours after closer Craig Kimbrel, who was not part of the 2016 team, was traded across town to the White Sox for infielder Nick Madrigal and pitcher Codi Heuer.
“I want to personally thank Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “Together they played critical roles for one of the most successful runs in Chicago Cubs history. They each secured a place in the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere. While their days taking the field together as Cubs have come to an end, they gave us memories we will hold forever.”
Things moved even faster for the Nationals. Mike Rizzo traded closer Brad Hand (to Toronto) and Schwarber (to Boston) on Thursday, sent reliever Daniel Hudson to San Diego early Friday, then moved catcher Yan Gomes and infielder Josh Harrison to Oakland. Pitcher Jon Lester was dealt late to St. Louis.
It was Hudson who recorded the World Series-clinching strikeout at Houston in 2019, with Gomes behind the plate.
The Nationals acquired 12 players in their deals, most notably catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray from the Dodgers.
Scherzer threw a pair of no-hitters in 2015, won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2016 and 2017 and went 92-47 with a 2.80 ERA in his seven seasons with the Nationals. He was set to become a free agent after this season, but Turner still has another year of arbitration eligibility.
“We got everything about of this group that we could have gotten out, and we reached the highest levels,” Rizzo said. “For 10 straight years, we’ve competed with the best and brightest in 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. There’s no shame in having to take a step back.”
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