MLB - US Sports: What's happened to the Washington Nationals since 2019?
The Washington Nationals won their first-ever World Series in 2019, but little seems to have gone right for the franchise since they defeated the Houston Astros.
As closer Daniel Hudson's slider tricked Michael Brantley into a full swing, the Nationals claimed their first championship with a dramatic game seven victory.
Tears of joy for the Lerner family at Minute Maid Park in Houston, with hugs for team manager Dave Martinez and jumps of joy on the mound by star players pitcher Max Scherzer, shortstop Trea Turner, third baseman Anthony Rendon, veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmermann and outfielder Juan Soto.
Soto is now the one remaining star in the Nationals line-up from that success and is under team control until 2025 thanks to the collective bargaining agreement, but questions about Soto remain, as they do about a full rebuild of the Nationals.
At the beginning of this month Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke to radio station 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies programme and made the statement: "We're not trading Juan Soto, we made it clear to his agent and to the player."
Trade approach has not worked out
Rizzo couldn't get Rendon to sign a new deal, so he left for an injury-disrupted $240million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
While Scherzer and Turner played through 2020 and part of 2021, they were then surprisingly traded away to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Donovan Casey and Gerardo Carrillo.
Washington's reward for trading away its stars is that they are poised to become only the fourth champion to finish below .500 in each of its next three seasons.
This group includes the 1918 Boston Red Sox and the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays, whose seasons were shortened because of World War One and the players' strike respectively.
Injuries and poor pitching in 2020 doomed the Nationals' hopes of repeating their success the year before.
Washington's fire sale came the following year and the Nats finished with 97 losses and a .401 winning percentage that ranks fifth worst among teams in their second year after a World Series title.
So why did Rizzo trade?
The Nationals' roster was the oldest in MLB the year they won the title and perhaps a World Series hangover was to be expected, but they still were expected to compete.
Rizzo wanted a quick reboot. Following his trade of Turner and Scherzer before the trade deadline in 2021, he spoke to reporters and said: "The aim is to win one of these (pointing to his World Series ring). I wore it today to remind myself that that is the goal.
"When I took a step back and made that look, I didn't see a path to be a World Series-calibre team this year. So I felt it was time for us to take a step sideways, to allow us to take a step forward."
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Payroll level also an issue
The 2022 Nationals is very different from the side which won the World Series. The strong bench has gone and so have the stars.
According to Spotrac, the Nationals have a payroll of $97million, which is a massive difference from the championship winning side and one of the arguments for the trade of the players has been the drop in attendances.
In 2019 at Nationals Park, Washington averaged 27,899 fans per home game, the team ranked 15th in MLB attendance.
In 2021 the drop in attendance was staggering, as just 18,093 fans turned up at the ballpark.
This can be put down to the fact that the support is not prepared to put up with the lack of competitiveness from the front office into a side capable of at least challenging for the National League East Division title or even a Wild Card spot.
To regain their position as an elite side, chasing World Series success, they will need to build for the future and acquiring 17-year-old Cuban international free agent outfielder, Cristian Vaquero is a start.
Rizzo and his baseball operations team will need free agents and young players to build into a capable side, but at least they will be an interesting side to see develop and every trade deadline Washington will be part of it.
Rizzo has the final word: "We started this thing in 2009, way below where we are today, as far as organisationally, it took us three years to win 98 games. We have a great plan in place."
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