On Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Nationals announced that they had traded second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs, and first baseman Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals. At the beginning of the season, no one thought the Nationals would be in fire sale mode in August. But after a disappointing and troubled season, it makes sense for the flailing Nats. But there is a little good news to be had for Nationals fans. Despite those trades, they didn’t pull the trigger on trading Bryce Harper, who was claimed on revocable waivers.
Waving the white flag
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke to the press on Tuesday to announce the trades and answer questions. And he was predictably positive about the trades and what it meant for his struggling team.
“We have the talent base on this team to play competitive games at the end of this season. The talent level in that locker room is still great.”
There’s a difference between “we’re a competitive team” and “we can play competitive games.” Trading Adams and Murphy means that the Nationals are giving up on being competitive for 2018. They’re not giving up on winning games, of course, but the team is definitely worse than it was before the trades.
Despite the state of the team now, waving the white flag in 2018 doesn’t mean the Nationals are tanking. Competing in 2019 is not just a gaol for the Nats, but it’s their plan. Rizzo said that these trades were about next year as much as this year.
“These moves allow us financial flexibility going into the 2019 season. […]”
“We feel like this was the best way to facilitate what we’re trying to do in 2018 and beyond.”
Those comments are a little strange once you look at the numbers, though. Daniel Murphy is only signed through 2018, and will be a free agent next year. His full salary for 2018 is $17.5 million, but the Nats have already paid most of that. According to Sportrac, his adjusted salary with the Cubs will be $3,857,526. Matt Adams is also only signed through 2018, and his salary is $4 million. His adjusted salary with the Cardinals is $881,705.
The money the Nationals will save from trading Murphy and Adams comes to just under $5 million. That’s not a lot of “financial flexibility.”
The Nationals are facing reality
Despite the rosy picture Rizzo attempted to paint on Tuesday, the only reason these moves were even fathomable is because the 2018 season hasn’t gone the way the Nationals envisioned. They’re currently 7.5 games back in the National League East, and they’ve spent just 16 total days in first place. The largest lead they had was 1.5 games, and that was back on April 2.
There’s been no single reason the Nationals have struggled. Injuries robbed them of Murphy and Anthony Rendon, who is a star and an asset. That forced the Nats to play guys like Michael Taylor and Trea Turner more, and they’re no replacement for guys who hit nearly .300 every year. On top of that, Bryce Harper spent the first three months of the season desperately struggling, hitting .219/.366/.482 through June 30.
But there’s more than just performance to blame. Manager Dave Martinez has faced criticism from his own players, which was revealed in the press. Then before the deadline, the Nationals traded reliever Brandon Kintzler, who had been suspected of leaking clubhouse information. They also traded reliever Shawn Kelley after Kelley and Rizzo nearly came to blows, which was the result of an outburst Kelley had on the mound.
Those trade deadline moves are what ultimately brought the Nationals to White Flag City, population: them. The Nationals have a 9-10 record in August. Their bullpen has a 5.22 ERA in the same stretch, and is responsible for allowing the Nationals to lose two straight games on heartbreaking walk-offs. They’ve lost Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, and Kelvin Herrera to the disabled list. At the same time, Kelley and Kintzler have been aces for their new teams.
What’s even worse is that the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, who have been trading time in first place, have both stumbled in August. With a hot stretch, the Nationals could have gained a lot of ground and been just a few games out of first. Instead, their season-long struggles combined with trades made for (seemingly) non-baseball reasons have them out of the race and dealing players.
Bryce Harper stays in DC
When the news of the Murphy and Adams trades broke on Tuesday, there was one question on everyone’s lips: what about Bryce Harper? Harper had been put on revocable waivers, and he was claimed just like Murphy and Adams.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers in the mix for Harper, it seemed like a deal could happen. They traded for Manny Machado before the deadline, and they have a reputation for going out and getting big name, big impact players. And recently, Harper has looked like his old self. He’s hit .295/.408/.564 with 10 home runs since July 1.
But to the relief of many Nationals fans who want to watch Harper play in a Nats uniform just a little longer, Harper won’t be traded to the Dodgers.
During the Murphy/Adams press conference, Rizzo said that to trade an elite player, you need to have a deal that makes sense. It looks like he didn’t get that from the Dodgers, meaning he’ll stay with the Nats until the end of the season.
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