The future comes to Nationals Park Monday night.
Josiah Gray, the top young pitching prospect Washington acquired at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, will likely be throwing to another key piece of that deal, catcher Keibert Ruiz, in the series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.
For Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, it will be a satisfying moment one month after he and his front office transformed this organization with trades that bought 12 new and hopeful faces to the franchise — with Gray and Ruiz being two of the high-profile new arrivals.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to do when we decided to retool this thing,” Rizzo said. “I thought we had a very successful trade deadline. We’ve got several of these players helping us in the big leagues now and more will be helping in the near future. I thought we got some good impactful players and really upside prospects that are very close to the big leagues, if not big-league ready now.”
These were the big leaguers that Rizzo and company dealt away in the “retool” — Turner, Scherzer, Yan Gomes, Kyle Schwarber, Daniel Hudson, Jon Lester, Josh Harrison and Brad Hand.
These were the prospects they got in return in the “retool” — some of them highly-rated, some of them longshots: Gray, Ruiz, pitchers Aldo Ramirez, Gerardo Carrillo, Mason Thompson, Seth Shuman, Richard Guasch, catchers Riley Adams and Drew Millas, shortstop Jordy Barley and outfielders Donovan Casey and Lane Thomas.
“Our pro scouts had been very active throughout this whole season, especially close to the trading deadline,” Rizzo said. “We reassigned a bunch of our scouts to these particular organizations because we knew those would be the ones that we would be probably be doing business with at the trade deadline, with Max having the no-trade protection and navigating us to which teams he wanted to go to. We got an idea of that early in the process and sent our scouts out to those organizations. Every player we acquired, we had a good history of scouting reports dating back not only to their amateur days but leading up to the trading deadline.”
Since his arrival with the Nationals organization, Ruiz, 23, has hit .308 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 20 games for the Rochester Red Wings.
“We had interest in Ruiz way back in the day,” Rizzo said (Ruiz was signed by Los Angeles as an international free agent in 2014). “He was kind of our targeted player at the trade deadline and was somebody we really wanted to acquire at this period. We made it known to the Dodgers that there were certain pieces that we had to have to make the trade for Turner and Max and we got several of the pieces we felt we had to get for us to make the move.”
Ruiz joins Gray, who has had five impressive starts for Washington with a 2.89 ERA in 28 innings pitched, along with three others who have been with the major league club since the deadline: Adams (batting .349 in 18 games, with two home runs and seven RBI), Thompson (11 appearances, 3.38 ERA) and Thomas (.364 average in 11 games).
Those prospects, and what they’re doing on the field, tend to back Rizzo’s contention that this is not a “rebuild,” but as he calls it, a “retool.” Retooling instead of a complete overhaul makes sense in a division like the National League East, where no one seems to be able to run away from the field. If Schwarber and Stephen Strasburg had been healthy, Washington is a buyer at the trade deadline, not a seller. So retooling is not a white flag.
“There is a difference,” he said. “I think we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were when we rebuilt in 2009, coming off a couple of 100-loss seasons. We feel that we are ahead of that curve. We feel we have some very good core pieces at the big league level. We got ourselves some good minor league prospects that are close to the big leagues. I think we have all the ingredients to flip the script here fairly quickly and become a team that is in the hunt again in the near future. That is our blueprint and that is our plan.
“We took the first big step to it with the last couple of drafts we had and this last trade deadline,” Rizzo said. “When you look at our roster, you see the core pieces of the last two drafts and the trade deadline will be the core players of the next championship-caliber club.”
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