Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Jim Bowden/Mike Rizzo ESPN Zone
Between work assignments, the current last home stand and having to transcribe the entire nearly one hour get together, which takes a long time, I finally had the opportunity post up the transcript of Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo at The ESPN Zone this past Friday in downtown Washington, DC. Hosted by Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes, the get together was one of those rare opportunities for fans to sit down, listen and have the opportunity to question management of Our Washington Nationals. This was a good event worth attending. Something Our Washington Nationals should schedule on a more regular basis. Nothing wrong with being outward, forward thinking and meeting Our Fans in a upfront and personal way.
This will be a two parter as the transcript is so long--it might be a little taxing to read in one take. For the most part the transcript is pretty complete. If a questioner went off on a huge tangent rambling before asking his or her question, I have shortened the remark for brevity sake, without taking away from the importance of the thought. From the get go, Charlie Slowes kept the conversation flowing, asking his questions and allowing anyone attending and willing to participate--their opportunities to ask. To their credit--Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo did not back away from any comments--making this ESPN Get Together the best one of 2008. A very entertaining hour to say the least.
With the preamble out of the way--here we go with Part One of Jim Bowden & Mike Rizzo at The ESPN Zone in Washington, DC on September 19th, 2008.
Charlie: Please welcome our special guests today—Our Senior Vice-President and General Manager Jim Bowden and Assistant General Manager and Vice-President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo. Get your questions ready for these guys. I am going to get things started with a subject that has been in the news Jim, trying to line up your farm system for next year. You announced yesterday that The Vermont Lake Monsters are back and the Harrisburg Senators are back. Potomac already under contract and you are working on locking up your AAA Team.
Jim: We are. We visited Syracuse yesterday, which we believe would be a phenomenal place for us. A tremendous facility in which they put over $1.4 Million into their field. Grass facility with two indoor batting cages for the cold weather, as it can get in Syracuse. But, they (Syracuse Management) have done a tremendous job with that facility. It’s only a one-hour flight from DC. We met with them yesterday and are continuing our discussions with them. But, I certainly think it would be a good spot for us if both of us can make it work.
(Official Announcement has now been made—The Syracuse Chiefs will be Washington’s AAA Franchise for the next two seasons).
Charlie: The landscape of parent clubs and AAA Clubs has really changed in recent years. You use to have teams, for instance, Syracuse was with Toronto for 31 Years. And before that, had a really long relationship with The Yankees, but we are not seeing those long-term agreements or renewal of these agreements over the long term these past few years. Why is that?
Jim: I think it is a couple of reasons. One is that clubs are trying to get their affiliates as geographically closer to your home. And number two there is such a turnover now a days in baseball--the relationships have changed. Syracuse for so many years had for many years had relationships with people like Pat Gillick and Bobby Cox. Then, there is turnover in Toronto and the relationships changed and a lot of the time the affiliates changed as well.
Charlie: I know the question has come up and some folks understand it. I know I have had to explain it a number of times because The Braves are pulling out of Richmond and taking their AAA Team to Georgia—just outside of Atlanta. The difference being they (The Braves) own that franchise. So, when their agreement was up (with Richmond) and the lease with stadium, they applied to move the team and can do that because they don’t have a working agreement and relationship. They own the club.
Jim: Yes, that is exactly right.
Charlie: It use to be a lot more of those where Major League Teams owned the Minor League Teams. That’s not so much the case anymore—either.
Jim: No. I still think there are organizations like Atlanta that own a lot of their affiliates and there are a lot of benefits to being able to do that. But you also must look at it from a cost perspective because the price of the clubs have risen so much a lot of times it does not make sense, financially, to own the club yourself.
Charlie: You guys have been very busy. At this point of the year you guys gear up for Instructional League, putting together rosters for the off-season. Even at this point, it’s never too early to think ahead to next years draft by getting ready for players for next year and seeing how thing line up—especially with The Nationals possibly having The Number 1 Pick, The Number 2 Pick and definitely 9A—which is, I guess, the 10th pick not being able to sign the pick from this year.
Mike: This is a very active part of the season, especially for us in the front office. A lot of long term and short term plans are being implemented now. We meet on a daily basis in the office and we try to forge out a plan for not only this winter, but for next season. We have Instructional League just starting to crank up right now down in Viera. And there are Winter Ball decisions that have to be made. It’s a lot of activity this time of year.
Charlie: Arizona Fall League too, is right around the corner.
Mike: Definitely. October 7th we kick off there in Arizona. The Florida Instructional League started, yesterday (September 18th) I believe was the first workout. The calendar is a 12-month per year working environment for us in the front office. And after the season (fall season) starts; this is an important active part of the baseball season.
Charlie: One of the interesting things going on in the big league level here in September looking at some of the new players. Of course, Emilio Bonifacio whom you acquired from Arizona and now Anderson Hernandez whom you acquired from The Mets—both playing at second base and Anderson Hernandez did not have a good year at AAA for The Mets—hitting just .203. But seems like a completely different player offensively right now in the big leagues.
Jim: A year ago he had led The Pacific Coast League in hits. But, he was in a difficult situation in New York stuck behind Jose Reyes. He didn’t get another chance. He got a couple cups of coffee with The Mets and didn’t perform at The Major League Level. So, he was just a young guy that got buried behind a tremendous shortstop. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated when one year you lead in hits and then the next year you are still back in the same league again. We thought a change of scenery would help him.
Charlie: Manny knew him pretty well having been the third base coach for The Mets.
Jim: Yeah, Manny did. Obviously this is a guy who is a tremendous defensive player and has also had a lot of success in Winter Ball. Although he has never had offensive success at The Big Leagues until now. He’s certainly showed it in AAA and Winter Ball.
Charlie: How much importance do you put on what happens, especially to guys that just get called up in September, in terms of formulating where they may be for next year? The old baseball saying: “You don’t make an assessment on Spring Training or September.” But, you do to some extent.
Jim: You always have to take into account who the hitter is facing in September. Facing Brandon Webb or (Jake) Peavy—you are going to weigh that more than you are going to weigh a AA Pitcher being brought up in September. So, when you are evaluating you take it a little step further in evaluating more importantly, certain pitches and certain pitchers rather than what the At-Bats and hits, what the statistics say.
Charlie: I have seen some teams in the past call players up in July or August—a month or so earlier for that very reason. They want to see them against Big Leaguers who are in mid-season form.
Jim: Or in our case, then our entire team gets to see them (chuckling).
Question: Hi Jim, Season Ticket holder for four consecutive years. Very disappointed in the season and I think that a lot of personnel decisions this year—I have questioned. In my view, and again as armchair fan, I thought (Justin) Maxwell, Lannan, Flores should have been on the 25 Man Roster (at the beginning of 2008). I thought that at the end of last season. I thought that the LoDuca, Estrada, (Rob) Mackowiak and other signings were improvident. I thought that the day they were made. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but now when we are in a situation where $30 Million of our $55 Million payroll is no longer here. Any thought next year, framing this as a fan, I would like, I would prefer to see, rather than one season stopgap signings—if we are going to lose—lose with the kids. Let them play here, package up all that money, $10 to $15 million on one player, whether it’s a pitcher or hitting. I don’t know what Free Agents are out there; perhaps there won’t be any. I wouldn’t say just go sign someone to just sign anybody. But, I would rather see that than see what we had this year.
Jim: I think that is fair. A couple of things real quick. One thing we don’t want to do is rush a player to the big leagues that our baseball people do not think is ready and hurt his development by coming up here and failing. In the case of Flores, we made the judgment that we thought he needed one more season in AAA to work on some things, to make some adjustments—both in catching and following the game plan as well as the bat. We signed LoDuca and Estrada with the intent of two things: Number One---if we can get LoDuca hitting maybe by July 31st, we can trade him, get a prospect. By then, hopefully Flores is ready and that way you are not rushing him. In the case of Mackowiak, of course that didn’t work. But, if you don’t sign Mackowiak, we also don’t get Willie Harris. We also don’t get Odalis Perez. And when you sign those kinds of guys that are in the $850,000 to $1.5 million you are not going to hit on all of them. If you were going to hit on all of them, they are not going to get the $850 to $1.5 Million. They are going to get $3 or $4 Million if they are a proven guy today. So, when you are signing Free Agents, three or four guys like that—you don’t know for sure that Willie Harris was going to have a year like he had. We weren’t for sure that Odalis Perez was going to give us many solid starts. But, you sign them because you don’t have prospects that are quite ready to take position. As far as philosophically, yes, sure, I think if your preference, all our preference would be to have one quality player that is making $15 Million per year. However, if it’s a quality player, he’s not going to sign for one year. You are going to have to give five years, six years; it’s what the market is for those types of players. And, is the right person there? Is it a player that is in his 20’s that will a part of it when we are ready to win? And that is the question you have to ask when you do those types of signings. But we philosophically feel the same way you do. No one is against that. Are all moves going to work—no—but at the time we had our reasons for doing that.
Question: My question is about the Aaron Crow situation and we have heard a lot about how there were problems communicating. They wanted to do via emails. You wanted to talk on the phone. I think that at the end of the day, by the way it’s been reported, is that Aaron Crow was allowed to walk over $900,000. That he wanted $4.4 Million, the team wanted save a little less than a million in dollars and not pay him that. I think that what a lot of fans don’t realize is that, that signing bonus is a one time (deal). He wasn’t asking for $4.4 million salary. That is a one time signing bonus and that as a part of signing that contract the team has the right to pay him league minimum for his first three years in The Big Leagues. If he is going to spend some time in the minor leagues, four maybe five years, so if you think about that signing bonus, averaged out over the course of lets say four years, before he goes to arbitration, Aaron Crow is asking for about what we paid Rob Mackowiak this year. I assume you wouldn’t trade Aaron Crow straight up for Rob Mackowiak, so I wonder why is it that in the business interest of the team—I agree with you Jim that he was a future front line starting pitcher. I think today he could be the second best pitcher in our rotation. Why is it in the baseball interest of this team, would you allow a talent like Aaron Crow to walk over $900,000?
Jim: I think that’s a fair question. We wanted to sign Aaron Crow. Obviously that is why we drafted Aaron Crow. We also feel that you have to be sensitive to a marketplace and the dollar value of players that sign. Brian Matusz was taken with the 4th pick in the draft. At the end of the day, we offered more money than what Brian Matusz got. We also had the leverage of getting 9B (Draft Pick in 2009) if we don’t sign the pick for next year in which we get the equivalent talent of Aaron when it comes our time to pick next year. In Negotiations, yeah sure, we can run a business where we can just pay whatever the player wants. But certainly, over a long period of time, it’s going to cause problems trying to find and sign players if all they know they have to do is wait until midnight and whatever they ask for, we are going to pay. We negotiated in good faith and in the end, couldn’t do a deal. Mike, do you want to add anything?
Mike: We spent a lot of time invested in scouting Aaron Crow. We feel, we felt we got the best player available at the 9th pick. What not signing Aaron Crow does is that it delays gaining a player of his ability level 10 months. And that is 10 Months of development (lost) that we don’t like doing. But, in the interest of The Nationals Scouting and Player Development Department, we felt that we did negotiate a contract to sign the player. We felt we were negotiating in good faith. And it was a matter of, at the end of the day; we couldn’t come through with an agreement with the player. We feel that the option of picking 9B, which will be the 10th player in this year’s draft, was to the point where we felt that it was to the best interest of The Nationals if we couldn’t’ get this deal done—at a price we felt was fair and equitable—then we would take our chances with two picks in the top 10 next year—which we are very excited in Scouting and Player Development to plan for next year. And we are going to do our best to follow the impact players in the ’09 Draft.
Charlie: Jim and Mike, we never really know what goes on when you are in a negotiation like that and obviously, in the 11th hour—running out of time—that sort of thing. How difficult is that? Communication, the agent maybe thinking he has, as you would say, an advantage based on the last moment to try and see if you guys will give them what they want because you don’t want to lose the player. But, you guys are delayed 10 months in receiving a quality player, but the player certainly loses because he’s going to pitch in an independent league in Texas. How is that a good thing for the player?
Mike: Well we feel that the new rules that were implemented within the basic agreement in the last two years concerning draft picks really are favorable to the clubs because we do. Aaron Crow and God Bless his Heart, we hope only but the best for him. He’s got to go now and pitch another year and have success like he did at The University of Missouri in an independent environment where he is going to be working out on his own, playing with players that he has no ties to. He is going to be one year older. One year farther away from arbitration and free agency and the making of the big dollars. Plus, he has to remain injury free and have success on that level. He’s got to get back to a point where he can recoup the money he has left on the table. So, in retrospect, we look at the situation and both sides lost a little bit in this negotiation. We feel because of the new rules implemented, we are going to get an equitable player at 9B as we had with Aaron Crow in next year’s draft. So, we feel that because of that and because of the fairness having negotiated his contract with, we felt we were being very fair and equitable with the player.
Charlie: I would think, my own opinion, the player took a much greater risk in not signing and the chance that he could get hurt whether the agents taken an insurance policy out on him or not, because you look at the money, the signing bonus money is small potatoes compared to the amount a guy like Aaron Crow can make at the Big League Level when he puts in his couple of years and had success.
Jim: Also, you talk about how we can walk away. They also walked away from the $900,000 difference. Not only did they walk away from that, but we had promised him a September Call Up—so he would have gotten service time and a Major League Salary, in addition to--he would have been in our starting rotation next year. So, he loses that $400,000 (in salary). He also loses that year of salary arbitration. He loses a year of free agency. So, if he is as good as we all think he is, the impact of what he walked away from is millions and millions of dollars when you it comes to arbitration time and free agency.
Question: I am hugely involved in everything The Nationals do and I watch what over teams do also, like the (Pedro) Alvarez situation with Pittsburgh. So, I have a question for you Mike—When you are out scouting between now and next June’s Draft, do you, as you are watching the players, and make decisions as to who you might want to draft—especially with what we have at the top picks—are you also looking at who their agents are in making your decisions. Because it sure looks like (Steve) Boros wants more than top dollar for whoever his players are. Is that an issue?
Mike: It is a part of the equation when we put together and talk about the evaluation of each individual player. In my career, in Jim’s career, we have never walked away from an agent, per se. I have dealt with Scott Boros and his clients for many years, as has Jim. We evaluate players on what they can do. What impact they could have in our organization. And we access many, many different ingredients, which go into the assessments of these players. That is a part of it, but it’s not a major part of it. But, it is certainly something we think about. If the next question is whether we will walk away from a Scott Boros Client—I would say no. As we have done in the two drafts that I have been associated with The Nationals and with all my drafts with Arizona—we never walked away from sign abilities or agents. They are factors in our decision making process, but we are not going to let the agent dictate who we may take or who we pass on.
Question: There appears to be a lot of hidden gems in the later rounds in pitchers. Randy Johnson was a second round pick for The Expos in 1985. So, to me it’s a crap shoot when it comes to whatever you are going to get with pitchers. I am kind of glad you didn’t sign Crow because who needs another big attitude around here. I think the guys you picked recently—hats off to you—Anderson Hernandez, (Alberto) Gonzalez, (Emilio) Bonifacio. We went from a slow and lazy team to a team built for speed—which seems to be more conducive to The NL EAST. I think the attitude is great. It seems to have changed on the field and the way that Manny manages. I know we were all trying to scratch our heads and he seems to have gotten a hold back of the team. So, I think that is great. I want to look more toward next year. What do you see, without making trades. What would be your starting lineup in the outfield?
Mike: I think going into Spring Training there is going to be competition at a lot of positions. Going into it and looking at what we have at the end of this year, through the winter and spring training next year—I think Elijah Dukes has planted himself the guy that is a key component of our current club and our future. Lastings Milledge we think still has star potential in the future. He is having a very nice year for us this year. And we are expecting Austin Kearns to come back and be the Austin Kearns we’ve seen two and one-half, three years ago. We feel once he gets over the hump physically and gets healthy, we are expecting good things from him—from Austin.
Jim: I think there is also a possibility that we do make a trade and change that answer. Certainly we all know that we need to add offense. Ideally, you would like to be sitting there with a pull hitter from the left side that could take some pressure off the kids. And put them in a better slot in the batting order. Lastings Milledge is not a clean up hitter. He would be better off hitting second if you develop him ideally. And if certainly we had more protection, maybe if Nick Johnson had been healthy, he would have helped those young kids there in the lineup. But, I think at the end of the day, we are going to explore every avenue. We are going to explore trades, I think, as far as how the outfielders line up. I think Manny has got to evaluate how everyone has done defensively, maybe find out if there is an area, without being specific, make an outfield position change—just to upgrade the defense—without getting into specifics. So, I think we are looking at all that. We need more offense out of our outfield, for sure. And we need to improve the defense as well.
With that, part one of Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo at The ESPN Zone concludes. Plenty more coming tomorrow in part two as The Baseball Operations Management takes on even more Questions from Fans Of Our Washington Nationals.