Washington — Essentially throwing in the towel on a disappointing season, the Nationals traded second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and first baseman Matt Adams to the Cardinals on Tuesday.
Despite a roster that boasts such stars as former Tiger Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper, Washington went into a three-game series at home against Philadelphia with a losing record of 62-63, 7½ games behind the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves.
General manager Mike Rizzo and ownership gambled at the July trade deadline, standing pat and expressing faith in the roster as constituted.
The Nationals trounced the New York Mets, 25-4, that night, but are 9-10 since, including a 2-5 trip through Chicago and St. Louis that featured a 4-3 loss at Wrigley Field on a two-out, walk-off grand slam.
“We felt that coming off that road trip and into this most recent homestand was a time that was a litmus test for us … and we felt that the timing was right to make the vital decisions that we had to make,” Rizzo said.
The deals came three weeks after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and the Nationals aren’t getting much in return.
For Murphy, who was hitting .300 since his return from knee surgery, the Cubs are swapping Single-A infielder Andruw Monasterio and a player to be named or cash. For Adams, the Cardinals are sending $50,000 to Washington.
“These are tough decisions, to trade a ultimate professionals like Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams is never easy,” Rizzo said. “We felt this was the best way to facilitate what we are trying to do not only in 2018 but beyond.”
The 33-year-old Murphy was a big hitter during his time in Washington.
A postseason star in 2015 with the Mets, he signed with the Nationals that winter and was an All-Star the next two years. Murphy missed the first 64 games this season but hit in 11 straight before being stymied by Miami’s Jose Urena on Sunday.
“My thoughts are it’s really bittersweet,” Murphy said. “I sat at this podium probably 21/2 years ago. The Washington Nationals were the only offer I had. They took a chance on me three years ago and I feel very disappointed in myself that it kind of came to this point, I guess would be the easiest way to describe it.”
The 33-year-old Murphy has a .413 career batting average at Wrigley Field, according to STATS. He was the NLCS MVP when the Mets swept the Cubs in 2015, hitting .529 with four homers and six RBIs.
“It’s going to be more fun to watch him hit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game at Detroit. “He kind of devastated us in 2015.”
Asked how close the team came to including Harper — a free agent after the season — in the Tuesday deals, Rizzo said: “You have to get a deal that makes sense to trade one of the elite players in the game.”
Harper, who struggled for much of the first half, won the Home Run Derby during the All-Star festivities at Nationals Park. Since the break he is hitting .350 with seven home runs, 25 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 28 games.
“I’ve been part of this organization for seven years and I look forward to coming in and doing my job every single day and I had no fear of being traded or let go on waivers or anything like that,” Harper said.
The Nationals were coming off two consecutive division titles under manager Dusty Baker, who was fired after last season and replaced by rookie skipper Dave Martinez.
Murphy expressed support for Martinez, without even being asked about him.
“Right man for the job here in DC,” Murphy said.
The Nationals’ high-water mark came on May 30 when they defeated the Orioles for their sixth consecutive win to improve to 33-22. They haven’t won more than three straight games since.
“We’re definitely not in an ideal spot,” veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We had a chance a couple of times to gain some ground and couldn’t really string together many wins in a row.”
To fill the spots created by the departure of Murphy and Adams, the Nationals recalled infielder Adrian Sanchez and outfielder Andrew Stevenson from Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nationals’ began the season with a payroll of $180.19 million, fourth-highest in Major League Baseball.
They have made the postseason four of the previous six seasons.