The Washington Nationals’ rebuild is officially a year old.
General manager Mike Rizzo initiated what he calls a “reboot” on July 30, 2021, by trading Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since then, the Nationals are an MLB-worst 53-110, with the latest loss coming in a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.
Safe to say, most of the past year hasn’t been pretty. But July may have been rock bottom.
It started with a six-game losing streak, the last five of which came in July. Then, after just one victory, the Nationals had nine more losses in a row before winning their final game before the All-Star break.
But the long losing streaks were far from the worst part of the month.
The worst, of course, has been the trade rumors swirling around All-Star outfielder Juan Soto over the past two weeks. The possibility of trading a once-in-a-generation talent has been a black cloud hovering over the Nationals since the report that Soto was available after turning down a would-be record-breaking $440 million contract offer.
“I know for a young player in this situation it can be tough,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “For me, he’s a Washington National. That’s the way I see him, that’s the way I’ll see him until otherwise.”
Despite the endless speculation, Soto hasn’t been traded … yet.
About seven teams have reportedly shown interest in the on-base machine, but the Padres are considered the favorite due to their rich farm system. Another top contender might be the Cardinals, who coincidentally were in the District to play the Nationals this weekend.
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Dispatch, Rizzo and John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, met in person this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline. The two executives were also shown on MASN’s broadcast chatting in the early innings of Sunday’s matinee.
“I just want to get it over with and see what’s going to happen,” Soto said after the loss. “Right now, I’m here and I’m a National, so I just go out there as a professional and a National and play for them, as hard as I can. It don’t matter whatever they’re saying, whatever the rumors [are].”
Rizzo confirmed Wednesday that Soto was on the trading block. He expressed disappointment that the details of the proposed contract (15 years and $440 million) were released, asserting that the leak didn’t come from his office. But he was steadfast that his job is to “explore all the options,” which includes potentially trading away one of the best hitters in baseball before he even turns 24.
But the games don’t stop if a team’s GM is shopping his best player. And the Nationals have played respectably since returning from the break, winning four of nine and tying their season-high winning streak of three games.
Sunday’s loss, which featured a three-run home run by Corey Dickerson and eight shutout innings by Cardinals righty Andre Pallante, gives Washington a 6-19 record for July, just one win better than the Nationals’ worst — 5-19 in July 2008. The Nationals have the worst record in the major leagues at 35-68.
“It’s been up and down,” Martinez said when asked how his players are handling the losing. “There’s been some moments where I could tell they were struggling a little bit, especially when we got back from the break. … They’re holding up well, but it’s been a tough bump.”
What’s more difficult than the slog that was July is that August and September may be even worse. Soto could very well be traded Monday or Tuesday. The haul of prospects is expected to be enormous — potentially franchise-altering — but it’s likely those youngsters won’t help the Nationals much this season.
Aside from Soto, first baseman Josh Bell — in the midst of a career year with a .302 batting average, 14 home runs and 57 RBIs — is a near-lock to be dealt at the deadline. The Astros, Brewers and Red Sox are among the teams rumored to be interested in the switch-hitting slugger.
Josiah Gray, who took the loss after allowing four runs in five innings, said any departures at the trade deadline will be “tough” to swallow.
“Next week, I’m sure the clubhouse might look a little different, but we’re going to go and compete with the guys out there,” Gray said.
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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