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STEVE DeSHAZO: Trades with L.A. mean Washington franchises are starting over
COMMENTARY

STEVE DeSHAZO: Trades with L.A. mean Washington franchises are starting over

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Los Angeles has a reputation as a city where everyone’s in a big hurry, while Washington is better known as a town where everyone talks and very little ever gets done.

Thursday’s derecho of trade activity seemed to confirm those impressions, as three of D.C.’s most prominent pro athletes were shipped to L.A. The news of the Nationals’ blockbuster deal to swap Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers hadn’t yet sunk in when the Wizards agreed to send Russell Westbrook back home to play for the Lakers.

Those trades confirmed that L.A.’s teams feel urgency to win now, while the Nats and Wizards essentially confirmed that it’s going to be a while before they contend again.

Give Mike Rizzo credit: He didn’t do things halfway. Besides trading away arguably baseball’s top pitcher and an All-Star shortstop, he also dealt his leading home run hitter (Kyle Schwarber, to Boston), his two most trusted relievers (Brad Hand, to Toronto, and Daniel Hudson, to San Diego), another member of the starting rotation (Jon Lester, to St. Louis) and two key players in the regular lineup (catcher Ian Gomes and utility man Josh Harrison, both to Oakland).

Most of the youngsters Rizzo received in return aren’t ready for the major leagues (although some may be forced to play there). A few may even end up in Fredericksburg in the coming weeks.

But even though the Nationals got the Dodgers’ two highest-rated prospects in right-hander Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz to restock a depleted farm system, Rizzo’s dervish of deals signaled that the Nationals understand they won’t be serious contenders until the next presidential election, at the earliest. Not with Stephen Strasburg’s future in serious doubt.

Rizzo and the Nats finally accepted the truth that despite a high payroll, this is an unremarkable team. After winning four National League East titles in six years from 2012–17, Washington will now go four years without one. Its record over the past two years (coincidentally, a full season in normal times) is 73–89.

And if not for Ryan Zimmerman’s fortuitous broken-bat single in the 2019 NL wild card game — and the heroics that followed over the ensuing month — this still might be a middling franchise without a banner.

That’s why Rizzo had to think of the future. The Scherzer/Turner deal makes sense on both sides, since the Dodgers’ bid to repeat as champions took a hit with Trevor Bauer’s suspension.

And it’s not inconceivable that Scherzer, who proclaimed his love for D.C., could decide to return as a free agent in the winter. The odds of a 37-year-old coming back to a rebuilding franchise aren’t great, though.

And here’s a word of warning: If, after watching young stars like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon leave and trading away Turner, Rizzo and the Lerner family don’t make every effort to lock up Juan Soto immediately, they risk forever alienating an increasingly frustrated fan base.

If you think the Dodgers feel urgency to win now, just look at the Lakers. LeBron James turns 37 in December, and is seething after a first-round playoff exit this summer. As good as he still is, he has a ton of wear on his tires, and given Anthony Davis’ penchant for injury, James may have one more title run left in him.

That’s why Westbrook could be a good fit for a team that’s in win-now mode—assuming he can share the ball with James and Davis and the three well-paid stars all can make it to next May healthy.

Trading away Westbrook’s $41 million salary also gives the Wizards a bit more flexibility as they try to surround star scorer Bradley Beal with better complementary players. But they now enter free agency without a competent point guard, and questions remain as to whether the roster will buy into new coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s defensive philosophy, or whether they’ll show enough improvement for Beal to stick around beyond next season.

Like the Nationals, the Wizards now have plenty of questions — and likely, some long off-seasons in the next few years to answer them.

Steve DeShazo reports for The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star.

Steve DeShazo reports for The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star.

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