Max Scherzer and Trea Turner spent seven seasons in D.C. for the Washington Nationals. They both played pivotal roles in the Nationals 2019 World Series win. And on July 29, they both got traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a move that signaled a new era for the Nationals and an abrupt ending for the fan favorites.
In the trade, Los Angeles sent their two top prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray, as well as right-hander Gerardo Carrillo and outfielder Donovan Casey, to the Nats for Scherzer and Turner. The deal was the biggest of the multiple trades the Nats engineered over a two-day span to completely revamp their roster and reshape their minor league system. The trades marked a stunning restart for an organization that had solely focused on winning pennants for more than a decade.
Previously, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had always felt that the team could turn it around, even as the club got out of the blocks slowly this season. In 2018, he opted to not sell slugger Bryce Harper at the deadline and attempted to get back in the race. This season, when ace Stephen Strasburg had to be shut down for neck surgery, one could sense Rizzo deciding it was finally time to completely retool the team and fortify a minor league system in need of a big-time talent influx.
“The good thing about this group is we’ve got everything out of this group that we could’ve got out,” Rizzo said on July 31. “We reached the highest levels. For ten straight years we competed for 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. There’s no shame in having to take a step back, refocus, reboot, and start the process again. That’s what we are preparing to do.”
The blockbuster trade of team leaders Scherzer and Turner, plus several other marquee names on the roster, certainly is a departure for the usual “all-in” approach taken by the competitive Rizzo. Deals of this magnitude were usually reserved for those other teams, but this time Rizzo finally relented in order to finally build for the future at the trade deadline.
Rizzo started by sending closer Brad Hand to the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Riley Adams. Later, he swung a deal with the Red Sox, sending slugger Kyle Schwarber to Boston for right-hander Aldo Ramirez. Rizzo also acquired 23-year-old right-hander Mason Thompson and infielder Jordy Barley from the San Diego Padres for closer Daniel Hudson. Additionally, the Nats acquired right-handers Richard Guasch and Seth Shuman, plus catcher Drew Millas from the Oakland Athletics for two veterans, catcher Yan Gomes and infielder/outfielder Josh Harrison. And finally, Rizzo sent starting left-hander Jon Lester to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Lane Thomas.
“You evaluate this thing every day,” Rizzo said. “I’m there with the team every day and you have to take stock, take a step back and look realistically. What can I do to win this division, to get in the playoffs, to give me a chance to win the World Series? 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 thought it was time for us to take a step sideways and to allow us to take a step forward and get back where we are supposed to be—which is a championship caliber organization.”
The flurry of trades last week was a path adjustment for the franchise, something not seen since 2010. With the loss of Scherzer and Turner, only three of the 10 players (counting designated hitter Howie Kendrick) who started Game 7 of the 2019 World Series remain with the team—Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Ryan Zimmerman.
Since 2015, with Scherzer and Turner, the organization made three postseason appearances, culminating in winning the 2019 Fall Classic. Along the way, the pair combined to make seven All-Star appearances and Scherzer earned two Cy Young Awards. Now they join an already loaded Dodgers team seeking back-to-back titles.
“You have two All-Stars that you just lost,” said Nats manager Dave Martinez. “They were part of a big year in ’19. I am going to miss them both. I know the fans will miss them. It’s part of the game. It was hard. I sat with Max [on July 29] for probably a good 45 minutes. I sat with him [on July 30] probably for another good 45 minutes and we reminisced about a lot of different things. We laughed. We were sad. These guys will be a part of me.”
Rumors of a big trade involving Scherzer leaked following what turned out to be his final start for the Nats—a 3-1 win at Philadelphia on July 29. In that start, Scherzer was returning from triceps soreness, but looked like himself on the mound, allowing just one run on three hits over six innings with five strikeouts to notch the victory in the first game of a doubleheader.
“Today was just a chance to get challenged and have to block all that out and have to go out there and just compete and try to find a way to win,” Scherzer said after the game. “That’s a good Phillies lineup. It presented challenges to me in the past. You make mistakes they can make you pay. That’s why it was fun to just get out there and just go pitch and compete.”
Scherzer’s legacy in D.C. was unmatched for its sheer dominance and success. The World Series title and Cy Young wins are at the top of the list, but he also fired a pair of no-hitters in 2015 and put together an epic 20-strikeout performance while racking up 92 regular season wins and 1,610 strikeouts over 189 starts. In 2019, the Nats went 6-0 in the postseason in games Mad Max started. His run in D.C. took the Nats starting pitching to another level, and guaranteed that the team would contend for a pennant almost every season.
Even before he was traded, Scherzer got the chance to reflect on one main reason why he has been able to be so good at his craft for all these years. And he got better while with the Nats, recording at least 243 strikeouts for five straight seasons.
“I put it on the line every single time,” Scherzer said. “I’ll give you everything I got no matter what the situation is. Today was a wacky start with all the hoopla and everything. But just put your head down, put the blinders up and go out there and compete. You do it for each other. It’s the relationships that you make and how you play the game.”
The flurry of trades netted the Nats 12 prospects and young major leaguers. Rizzo traded a total of eight front line Nats starters, relievers, or position players. The return includes six right-handed pitchers, three catchers, two outfielders, and one infielder. Nine of the newcomers were instantly placed into the top 30 of Nationals prospects on MLBPipeline.com. Five of these prospects are now in the Nats’ top 13. That says a lot about how good they are, but also how depleted and in need of talent replenishment the organization is. Ruiz and Gray are first and second on that list, and Carillo is 10th.
Some of the changes were felt over the weekend at Nats Park as the club faced the Chicago Cubs, another team that made major change. The active roster was adjusted to add newcomers Gray and Thompson, and Rizzo expects more to get some playing time during the final two months of the season.
Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.