So Rizzo sat there Friday, wearing a Washington Nationals quarter-zip, and explained his process and vision. He talked about the past before describing a transition, all while fiddling with a finger on his left hand.
“Our goal is always to do this,” Rizzo said, lifting his World Series ring to the camera of a video call with reporters. “To win a World Series. Win a ring. I wore it today to remind myself that that’s the goal. Questions?”
There were plenty. There were enough that, if possible, Rizzo could have stayed in the news conference room through the Nationals’ 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday night. For starters, how should fans stomach the loss of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes, Brad Hand, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison and Jon Lester in a 30-hour stretch? Or who was going to play against the Cubs, once the trade deadline passed and the roster was decimated by a hard-charging effort to stock the farm system and retool for a distant playoff run?
What made him deal Turner, a 28-year-old star still more than a year from free agency, to the front-running Los Angeles Dodgers? What about the promise of chasing titles, year in and year out?
A quick rundown, then.
On staging a fire sale in the two days leading up to the MLB trade deadline: “When 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 felt it was time for us to take a step sideways, to allow us to take a step forward and get back to where we’re supposed to be, which is a championship-caliber organization.”
On Turner’s departure: “We’d maximized Trea’s value because of where we’re at as a franchise. Trea Turner with two playoff runs in him and one-and-a-half years is way more valuable than a Trea Turner that’s got one year before free agency. That was the biggest reason that went into the decision-making.”
And on where the Nationals, contenders for a decade straight, go from here: “The remnants of this trade deadline, the last trade deadline, the last couple of impactful drafts that we had will be the core of the next world championship-caliber club. We started this thing in 2009, way below where we're at today, as far as organizationally, and it took us three years to win 98 games. We have a great plan in place.”
Rizzo doesn’t know how to go halfway. That’s why, once the deadline hit, the Nationals had shipped out eight players for a dozen in return, including top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray from the Dodgers. To fill their clubhouse for this weekend, they again recalled catcher Tres Barrera and added infielder Adrián Sanchez and pitcher Gabe Klobosits from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. They started Carter Kieboom at third and Luis García at second. They flipped the whole script.
But doing so brought a barrel of mixed emotions. Since the Nationals (48-55) are still dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, the club couldn’t say bye to Turner or Hudson, who are sidelined after testing positive. Their staff is thinned, too, with many minor league coaches helping out. By midafternoon Friday, when the field is typically buzzing with activity, inexperienced relievers made a slow trek to warm in right field. Lester tossed for a bit, hugged teammates and was off to join the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Guys come and go, and fans fall in love with somebody else, somebody new,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “It’s tough, but they do. And they got to understand that it’s part of the game, an unfortunate part of the game. But we got to keep going.”
On Friday alone, there was no way to replace Scherzer, their ace for more than six years, whose blue and brown eyes still watched over the stadium on a poster beyond the right field concourse; Turner, the elite shortstop with that rare blend of speed and power; Hudson, who was on the mound for the final out of the 2019 World Series; or Gomes, who caught it. There was no simple way to show a crowd of 33,882 people, many of them in Scherzer and Turner jerseys, that this step back will work. There was no telling if it will.
There was just a game to play, as always, and bits of the next chapter within it. García, all of 21 years old, rocked a 402-foot homer in his first at-bat. Josh Bell, a first baseman with another year of team control, pulled a right-handed solo shot in the fifth. Kieboom reached in the second, fourth and sixth, logging two singles and a walk. And when Klobosits entered for the eighth, making his major league debut, a group of upper-deck fans chanted: “Let’s go new guy!”
After all, this will take some getting used to.