Hits and misses: Rat­ing Rizzo’s best and worst moves with Nats

We asked two for­mer Na­tion­als beat writ­ers — Barry Svr­luga and Adam Kil­gore — plus the inim­itable Thomas Boswell to name GM Mike Rizzo’s three best and three worst moves. There wasn’t as much over­lap as ex­pected, although there was a clear con­sen­sus for t

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Thomas Boswell: Three best

1. Trea Turner and Joe Ross for Steven Souza Jr. and mi­nor lea­guer Travis Ott. We don’t know what the to­tal value of Turner’s and Ross’s ca­reers will be. But we seem to know that Souza is just a de­cent, strike­out-prone out­fielder for a los­ing team. The up­side of the po­ten­tial of a .350-on-base-plus-slug­ging, 40-steal short­stop lead­off man who is the sec­ond fastest in MLB, plus a pos­si­ble solid start­ing pitcher, too, is a to­tal steal even if base­ball or life some­how changes the out­come.

2. The Michael Morse trade. In a three-way deal, the Na­tion­als gave up only Morse and got back A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen. Fans hated the trade, es­pe­cially when Morse helped win Game 7 of the 2014 World Series for the Gi­ants by driv­ing in both the ty­ing and the win­ning runs. Now Cole is the sixth-starter in­sur­ance pol­icy and a long man; that has value. Treinen looks like a de­cent back-end-of-the-bullpen as­set. Rizzo thinks Treinen can close un­der pres­sure, though I won’t be­lieve that un­til I see it. In Treinen’s past 56 games, he had a 1.73 ERA, a .210 bat­ting av­er­age against and a re­ally good .588 OPS against. In the­ory, those are closer numbers — but he only has one ca­reer save. At 28, it’s time to do it if he can. If Rizzo had ac­quired a closer for 2017 and 2018 four years ago as a par­tial re­turn for Morse, that cer­tainly would be a big plus in the “In Rizzo We Trust” depart­ment. And Treinen is un­der team con­trol for four more years.

3. A 17-way tie. The trade of all-star re­liever Matt Capps for Wil­son Ramos. Draft­ing An­thony Ren­don at No. 6 over­all in 2011 when five other id­iot teams con­vinced them­selves the best pure col­lege hit­ter in a decade was too in­jury-prone. Tan­ner Roark also came aboard on Rizzo’s watch, when the Nats gave up sec­ond base­man Cris­tian Guz­man de­spite av­er­ages of .328, .316 and .284 his pre­vi­ous three years. Rizzo got Roark; Guz­man played only 15 more MLB games. There are 14 more, but my ed­i­tor said to stop.

Adam Kil­gore: Three best

1. Turner and Ross for Souza and Ott. All Souza ever did for the Na­tion­als was pre­serve Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann’s no-hit­ter with an in­deli­ble div­ing catch and get traded for Turner and Ross. In other words, they should build a statue of him on Half Street. Turner’s first sea­son sug­gested he could be­come an MVP can­di­date, and Ross seems like a sta­ble part of the ro­ta­tion for years to come. This was a fleec­ing, pe­riod.

2. Doug Fis­ter for Steve Lom­bar­dozzi, Ian Krol and mi­nor lea­guer Rob­bie Ray. The base­ball in­dus­try had trou­ble pro­cess­ing the deal at first, emit­ting two pri­mary re­ac­tions: Wait, Fis­ter was avail­able? And is that re­ally all it took to get him? Ray has blos­somed into a le­git­i­mate MLB starter, and Fis­ter flamed out in his sec­ond and fi­nal sea­son in Wash­ing­ton. Still, Fis­ter may have been the best pitcher on a 96-win divi­sion cham­pion.

3. Ac­quir­ing Ramos for Capps: The real ge­nius of this move was tar­get­ing Capps in free agency, know­ing he could rack up saves and be­come a trade tar­get on a team that wouldn’t need to pre­serve close games in the sec­ond half of the sea­son. The Na­tion­als signed Capps on the cheap to be their closer en­ter­ing 2010. Capps posted an all-star first half based al­most en­tirely on his save to­tal, and the Na­tion­als lever­aged his per­for­mance at the dead­line by spin­ning him for Ramos. Capps had a de­cent stretch for the Twins and made lit­tle im­pact there­after. All Ramos did was give the Na­tion­als six years of solid per­for­mance, al­beit lim­ited by in­jury.

Barry Svr­luga: Three best

1. Souza and Ott for Turner and Ross: This is an ab­so­lute heist, one that stunned other gen­eral man­agers when it broke and one that any GM would want on his ré­sumé. At its core are, of course, the play­ers in­volved: Souza, an out­fielder who is best known here for se­cur­ing Zim­mer­mann’s sea­son-end­ing no-hit­ter in 2014 with a spec­tac­u­lar div­ing catch but has gone on to rank sec­ond in all of base­ball in strike­out rate (33.9 per­cent) in his two years with Tampa Bay. Turner was elec­tric in his 73-game rookie sea­son last year, hit­ting .342 with 33 steals, and he ap­pears to be the short­stop for in­fin­ity. And Ross will be in the ro­ta­tion again. But what fur­ther sep­a­rates this move as Rizzo’s sig­na­ture (with an as­sist to as­sis­tant Bob Miller) is the cre­ativ­ity in­volved, in­sert­ing him­self as the third team in a brew­ing deal be­tween Tampa Bay and San Diego — and find­ing a loop­hole that al­lowed Turner to be in­cluded even though he had been drafted and signed less than a year ear­lier. That changed a ma­jor league rule (play­ers now can be traded in the off­sea­son af­ter they’re drafted rather than a year later) — and changed the Na­tion­als’ fu­ture.

2. Capps for Ramos: This one is per­fect for a re­build­ing team. Capps was an all-star closer on a last-place team, the very def­i­ni­tion of a mov­able part. Ramos was a catcher on the rise, a build­ing block for the fu­ture — who ended up be­com­ing a part of three divi­sion cham­pi­ons. Text­book fran­chise build­ing.

3. Alex Meyer for De­nard Span: This rates be­cause it was a risk — the 6-foot-9, right-handed Meyer was a top prospect — and be­cause it ad­dressed what had been two un­cer­tain po­si­tions for the Na­tion­als since they came to Wash­ing­ton: lead­off hit­ter and cen­ter fielder. Span’s 2014, in which he led the NL with 184 hits, al­most made the deal worth it by it­self. Meyer made only 11 ma­jor league ap­pear­ances with Min­nesota be­fore he was traded to the An­gels in Au­gust.

Thomas Boswell: Three worst

1. Trad­ing Rob­bie Ray. David Schoen­field of ESPN took a stab last month at pre­dict­ing the next player from ev­ery fran­chise who would be in­ducted into the Hall of Fame. Most of his se­lec­tions were fa­mous. Ray was his choice for the Di­a­mond­backs. A 2010 Na­tion­als draft pick, Ray was traded with Ian Krol and Steve Lom­bar­dozzi to the Tigers in 2013, then traded to Ari­zona in 2014. Ray struck out 218 in 1741/3 in­nings last sea­son — in a hit­ters ball­park. We will see.

2. Trad­ing Lu­cas Gi­olito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dun­ning for Adam Ea­ton. Ea­ton checked all the boxes for Rizzo, but the big­gest was prob­a­bly flex­i­bil­ity in ros­ter con­struc­tion this sea­son and next. De­spite Ea­ton’s front-of­fice-friendly deal, what has that flex­i­bil­ity pro­duced? Noth­ing yet. Mean­while, Gi­olito looked like a teach­able back-end-of-the-ro­ta­tion starter. And if you can’t turn Lopez into, at least, a fine setup man, you aren’t even try­ing. And he might be re­ally good.

3. The Jonathan Papel­bon deal. Rizzo looked at the numbers, the past per­for­mance and the bullpen’s des­per­ate need and over­looked what a jerk the guy had been at ev­ery stop. This move didn’t top the list only be­cause Papel­bon helped the Na­tion­als turn a bad sea­son into an aw­ful one, making it eas­ier to get rid of man­ager Matt Wil­liams.

Adam Kil­gore: Three worst

1. The Papel­bon deal: There is some hind­sight to this one. The Na­tion­als needed re­lief help at the 2015 dead­line, and Papel­bon came from Philadel­phia with un­ques­tioned on-field cre­den­tials. But it could not have been more of a dis­as­ter. Papel­bon’s per­for­mance was shaky, and his pres­ence caused Drew Storen’s tail­spin, which cul­mi­nated with Storen break­ing his hand on a locker. Oh, and Papel­bon also choked MVP Bryce Harper in the dugout, a vivid sym­bol of the Na­tion­als’ dys­func­tion at the time.

2. Hir­ing Matt Wil­liams: Rizzo bet on his own judg­ment in peg­ging Wil­liams, a man­age­rial novice, to lead a con­tender. It was a colos­sal mis­take. The Na­tion­als won 96 games in 2014, but Wil­liams’s mis­steps, par­tic­u­larly in Game 4 on the Na­tional League Divi­sion Series, con­trib­uted might­ily to their loss to the Gi­ants. In 2015, Wil­liams over­saw the to­tal col­lapse of a World Series fa­vorite. Rizzo at least rec­og­nized his er­ror and sought a can­di­date with ex­pe­ri­ence in 2016, land­ing even­tu­ally on Dusty Baker.

3. Not giv­ing pitcher Ed­win Jack­son a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer: In the first year of the qual­i­fy­ing-of­fer sys­tem, the Na­tion­als let free agent Ed­win Jack­son walk in 2012. That was a good de­ci­sion — Jack­son would sign a four-year deal with the Cubs, and dur­ing the con­tract he ef­fec­tively pitched him­self out of the league. But not giv­ing him a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer cost them a draft pick. Jack­son had fired his agent, Scott Bo­ras, dur­ing the sea­son af­ter sign­ing a one-year deal. The chances he would have taken an­other one-year deal seemed nonex­is­tent. It was a sim­ple strate­gic er­ror that cost the Na­tion­als a value as­set they could have ac­quired at min­i­mal risk.

Barry Svr­luga: Three worst

1. Trad­ing for Papel­bon: This deal de­vel­oped di­rectly be­cause Rizzo no longer trusted Storen, who had blown Game 5 of the 2012 divi­sion series against St. Louis and Game 2 of the 2014 divi­sion series against San Fran­cisco. But Storen, at the time of the trade in 2015, had a 1.73 ERA, had held hit­ters to a .212 av­er­age and had con­verted 29 of 31 save op­por­tu­ni­ties. Had Rizzo been able to trade for, say, Aroldis Chap­man or Craig Kim­brel, Storen could have tipped his cap and stepped aside. But Papel­bon’s stuff was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing by that point. And the last­ing im­age of that sea­son is Papel­bon’s hands around Harper’s throat. Who­ever was at fault, that trade — even for a Class A pitcher — didn’t work.

2. Hir­ing Wil­liams: It’s im­por­tant to point out that Wil­liams was named the Na­tional League man­ager of the year in 2014. But it’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the Na­tion­als job, headed into 2014, was as at­trac­tive a po­si­tion as there was in the sport, and it didn’t have to be handed over to a novice. Rizzo wanted dis­ci­pline af­ter Davey John­son’s loosey-goosey style, but he failed to rec­og­nize that Wil­liams — who was tense and rigid as a player — would be tense and rigid as a man­ager. He butchered the 2014 play­offs and lasted two sea­sons.

3. Head­ing into 2017 with no es­tab­lished closer: This is pre­dic­tive, for sure. But this is a team that is oth­er­wise set up to win, and en­ter­ing with ei­ther Treinen or Shawn Kel­ley to close — af­ter failed runs at Mark Me­lan­con and Ken­ley Jansen — sends a lousy mes­sage to the club­house. Rizzo’s at­ti­tude: Just do your job. But if who­ever wins the closer’s job fal­ters early, play­ers will won­der whether Rizzo did his.


Land­ing Trea Turner in a trade was a steal for Rizzo and the Na­tion­als.


Jonathan Papel­bon’s ten­ure in Wash­ing­ton did more harm than good.

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