Three years ago, as the clock ticked on the baseball trading deadline, Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo sat with his finger on the phone, waiting for the OK from the Lerner family to dial the Houston Astros to complete a deal that would have brought the team multiple prospects for Nationals star Bryce Harper.
The Lerners said no.
This time, with the impending deadline, it appears the Lerners handed Rizzo the phone and yelled, “Speed dial!:
We knew that Rizzo could build a baseball team. We’ve watched him draft and trade to construct a roster that was among the winningest in baseball for eight seasons, with five playoff appearances and one World Series championship. Eight consecutive seasons of winning is an eternity in today’s game.
Now we know he can raze one.
Future Hall of Fame pitcher Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospect Josiah Gray, catching prospect Kelbert Ruiz, pitcher Gerardo Carrillo and outfielder Donovan Casey.
World Series catching hero Yan Gomes and utility man Josh Harrison to the Oakland Athletics for pitchers Seth Shuman, Richard Guasch and catcher Drew Millas.
Short-time legendary outfielder Kyle Schwarber to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Aldo Ramirez.
Another World Series hero, reliever Daniel Hudson, was dealt to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Mason Thompson and shortstop Jordy Barley.
Fellow reliever Brad Hand was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Riley Adams.
Starting pitcher Jon Lester was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Lane Thomas.
HGTV’s Extreme Home Makeover would be proud of that teardown.
“We got everything out of this group that we could have … and we reached the highest levels,” Rizzo told reporters. “For 10 straight years, we competed with 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. And there’s no shame in having to take a step back, refocus, reboot and start the process again.”
No one is going to hold a bake sale for the Lerners, who, according to Forbes, were the richest owners in baseball in 2020. That was, as we all know, before COVID-19.
The Lerners never had the benefit of the post-World Series boom for their franchise – the expectation, even if just for the short term, of large crowds, sponsorships and attention for their 2019 World Series championship team.
All of that — gone in 2020. Empty ballpark. A 60-game season.
The Lerners, though, have made their money in commercial real estate. In case you haven’t noticed, these days that is like being…..well, being in the newspaper business. It’s not boom time.
In the early days of the American Football League, oil baron H.L. Hunt, when asked about his son’s investment in the league and his losses of a million dollars a year, Hunt replied, “Well, at that rate, he’ll be in trouble in 142 years.”
Most obscenely rich people, though, are not like that. Less money in their pockets tends to lead to less spending.
The Scherzer trade obviously hurts. He is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher, with 76 10-plus strikeout games, one 20 strikeout game, two Cy Youngs and visions of seeing the first Washington Nationals enter Cooperstown someday. The Washington Senators played baseball in this town for 70 years, in two different versions. They had one player like that – Walter Johnson.
But everyone was sort of braced for that trade, since he would be a free agent at the end of the season. Turner, though, was a gut punch, another young star, under contract through next year, departing this franchise.
“You want to trade for Trea Turner?” Rizzo said on 106.7 The Fan before the deal was made. “You have to come and get him, because he makes your team when you trade for him. It’s got to be a deal we can’t walk away from, one we can’t refuse.”
It had to hurt Rizzo. It may have been one of his favorite trades, a three-way deal in December 2014 with the Padres and Tampa Bay that sent outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott to the Rays, with Washington getting Turner and pitcher Joe Ross from San Diego.
One other of these deals that may go down in Nationals history — Schwarber and what might have been. The slugging outfielder arrived from Chicago this winter, and, after a slow start, had a historic June, with 16 home runs in 18 games — Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa numbers — before being put on the injured list in early July with a bad hamstring injury.
His National League Player of the Month performance gave us a glimpse of what might have been a statuesque kind of season, reminiscent of the two sluggers who greet Nationals fans as they enter the ballpark — Frank Howard and Josh Gibson.
But he was here, and now he’s gone.
So now we wait and see if the empty seats at the ballpark and empty office space around the DMV are going to keep the Lerners from making the commitment again to winning — and to keep a future statue in Washington, Juan Soto.
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
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