Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The Press Conference
As Our New Numbers 16 & 19 walked into the media interview room at Nationals Park, there was this wonderful look of nervousness on their faces. Josh Willingham, with a most reserved expression, was taking in all the newness now facing him. His teammate, Scott Olsen had his Red Curly "W" Cap pulled well down covering his eyes--much like that of the recently departed Chad Cordero. Except Olsen's Cap didn't sport a flat brim.
Each appearing much like young children now being transferred to a new school, new surroundings--time to meet new friends, new instructors and a completely different assortment of reporters. Veterans Day, 2008 found Josh and Scott in a whole new ball game. During the entire 25 Minute Press Conference, Willingham's and Olsen's facial expressions were PRICELESS. The best part of the get together. Neither sat down alongside Our General Manager Jim Bowden, or Assistant General Manager/VP Of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo nor Assistant General Manager/VP Player Development Bob Boone with a chip on their shoulder. They almost looked scared (for want of a better word) but what they really showed was composure and the ability to make a really good first impression.
Josh Willingham, with a wonderful slight southern drawl to his language. His dialect giving his composure a gentlemanly appearance. Scott Olsen taking some responsibility for his past transgressions. This presser was interesting to attend.
Here is the entire transcript to Today's Press Conference with Jim Bowden, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen, Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone. Each question and answer clearly marked:
Jim Bowden: “The Washington Nationals want to wish everyone a Happy Veterans Day. We chose to trade three minor leaguers for two veterans on Veterans Day. Last Wednesday at The General Managers Meetings we completed a five-player trade with The Florida Marlins—pending Ownership Approval and pending Medicals on all five players. We worked diligently and I want to thank Dr. Wiemi Douougih, our Medical Director, who worked very hard, along with Dr. James Andrews, as well as, Dr. Robert Watkins to go through all of the medicals on all five players involved. And then late last night we concluded the trade—The Washington Nationals acquiring 24 Year Old Left Handed Pitcher Scott Olsen and Outfielder Josh Willingham.”
“This continues our plan to build an organization for the long term. We believe Scott, a young left-handed starting pitcher, who pitched 200 innings last year and 190 the year before, continues to improve. He developed a third pitch this past year—his changeup—to go along with his fastball and slider. And certainly we feel he has the chance to be a major part in our rotation for a long time. Josh Willingham gives you a tremendous At-Bat every time up. In fact, he is sixth in The Major Leagues for right-handed hitters with 4.1 pitches per At-Bat. He can hit the tough pitcher and really knows how to give a good At-Bat. Both of these guys are winners—we are very, very pleased to introduce them to you today—and I will start with Josh Willingham.”
Josh Willingham: “I will just say that I am happy to be A Washington National. Florida was the only organization I had ever known. I was drafted in 2000 by them and had developed good relationships. They gave me the opportunity to play at the Big League level for the first time—so I have a lot of good things to say about that organization—and very grateful for the opportunity that they gave me. Moving forward, this is a brand new opportunity I am looking forward to. I know some of the guys on this team. I’ve met everybody and everybody has been great. And I am really looking forward to moving forward with The Nationals. We’ve talked about the plan they have for this team and I am going to believe in it. I think you will know what you get from me as a player. I play hard every day. I love playing the game. I think that is the most important part. And to have the opportunity to play at a stadium of this caliber that is brand new (is special). I think it’s going to be a good opportunity and I am really looking forward to it. And I appreciate the opportunity.”
Jim Bowden: “Thanks Josh. Now we shall turn it over to Left-handed Starting Pitcher Scott Olsen.”
Scott Olsen: “I have a very similar story as Josh. I got drafted by The Marlins, that’s all I have ever known. I have never been traded before, so this is all new for me in meeting all the new people here. Everybody has been great. It’s the same game, no matter where you are at and I look forward to playing here and being a National and trying to win. That’s the bottom line, is that you want to win ballgames. With the group we have, we are going to go out there, play hard, and hopefully we will be able to do that.”
Opening up the floor to questions from The Media:
Question: Scott, you had a pretty good year this past season, what was the difference this past season compared to previous years?
Scott: “I developed a third pitch which helped tremendously. Coming in (to The Majors) in 2005 and then in 2006, I really only had a fastball & slider. And it worked, it worked well for a year—and then I never had enough confidence in my change up—until about halfway through 2007. Then in 2008, I really started to throw it a lot and it worked well for me. I finally found a grip that I liked. A lot of it was just having confidence to throw it where you want to throw it—you are going to get a good result. Confidence got built up with that pitch and it really kind of turned things around for me.”
Question: I read where you last year you wanted to be The Ace of The Marlins. How much do you want to be The Ace of The Nationals?
Scott: “You want to be The Ace no matter where you are at. At least for me, I pride myself on the fact that I can be out there every five days. I don’t like missing starts. I don’t like missing anything. I want to be there and as part of being an Ace, that is what you have to do. I am sure I am not the only one, out of the people in the rotation that want to be that. I expect an open competition and we shall see in Spring Training what happens—as that is not my decision.”
Question: Scott, you pitch a lot of innings, you seem durable, have good stuff, is there another level for you—what’s next for you?
Scott: “I hope there is another level. I would like to think that you are never satisfied with the year. As a pitcher, you pretty much aren’t going to go 33 & 0. So, there is always room for improvement and you just try to do that. You watch tapes and try to improve on whatever small aspect or big aspect of the game—just to help you win. But I definitely think, I hope I think, there is another level up there.”
Question: Scott, earlier in the season, last year, your velocity was down a couple of miles per hour, September you were hitting 92 & 93 MPH. Was it something mechanical, tired, injury or something else?
Scott: “Honestly, I have no idea. I got a lot of questions about my velocity early on in the year. I was pitching pretty well, early on, and it didn’t seem to affect anything. I missed a week and a half, or so, in Spring Training—which kind of set my throwing program back—which might have been arm strength that wasn’t able to get built up like it had been. But over the course of the year, you said September, my arm strength was there and the velocity comes back. So, I think, presuming I stay healthy, I don’t think that will be an issue.”
Question: Josh, you played different position in The Minor Leagues and a few different in The Majors. Where are you most comfortable and Jim—where do you see him (Josh) fitting into the lineup? Is first base a possibility?
Josh: “For me, I’ve played a lot of positions. I’ve become a leftfielder, as far as I know, the last three years it’s where I played exclusively. I’ve done some catching before and was an infielder before that—so I think I am comfortable in leftfield now. I can play other positions, but it’s something I have not discussed (with The Nationals).”
Jim: “We acquired him as a corner outfielder, not as a first baseman.”
Question: Jim, can you talk, in general, about trading for veterans on Veterans Day. They are both arbitration eligible guys. Does this show more flexibility in your ability to do various things?
Jim: “Sure. It shows the commitment of Ownership and from Stan Kasten, our Team President. We are really determined on winning for Our Fans. This is a huge message that it sends to all The Washington Nationals Fans. But remember, these guys are still very young. They are in their 20’s. We control them (their player rights) for three more years. So this was not a trade and rent a player for a year. These are two players that fit into the long-term plan here. We were all definitely embarrassed by the season we had last year. It’s strictly unacceptable, whether we want to talk about injuries, lack of depth, or whatever it was that account to it—it’s embarrassing except for the fact that we get The First Pick in June. Aside from that, we never want that to happen again. So, we are on a mission to continue the plan and bring winning baseball back here to Washington.”
Question: Just wondering if you can take the genesis of how all this happened. You mentioned it was consummated at The General Managers Meetings. Did you have talks before that (with The Marlins)? Or was this an opportunity that came your way?
Jim: “We had had some talks for quite some time. We’ve been pursuing young pitchers for a long time—as well as—young position players—trying to trade for them. I think all of us continue to watch the market to see who will be available. It’s not very often that a young pitcher comes available on the market. The Marlins are a very unique situation in the fact that they have a bevy of young starting pitching coming. Not only that, they also have payroll restrictions in the stadium they presently have. So, the combination of having pitching depth and having a player hit arbitration who is a quality starter, he’s pitched a lot of innings the past couple of years, certainly from our perspective of looking at it—if they are going to make a deal, they are going to trade their arbitration eligible players, not their non-arbitration guys. We were very aggressive throughout the year with both Larry Beinfest (Florida President) and Mike Hill (GM). We had discussions with Mike Hill when they played here. I had discussions with him when we played down there with Larry Beinfest. We just continued to pursue it. We tried to pursue it before The GM Meetings—as I was concerned they might make the trade before we got there—and they kept putting us off until we got there. Then we engaged down there in multiple, multiple, multiple backs and forth—that had all kinds of names until we were able to conclude this deal on Wednesday Night.”
Question: Is Anderson Hernandez the starting second baseman now?
Jim: “Well, Manny Acta will make that decision, but those decisions will happen when we get to Spring Training—not now. There is a lot that can happen between now and then. But, certainly we were impressed with what Anderson did here in September. He hit over .300 for us, drove some runs in. He’s gone to Winter Ball and is hitting over .400 there. Our reports from there are good, and we remember that he led The Pacific Coast League in hits the year before. Maybe, he is just starting to mature a little more and put into his own. He’s certainly going to be someone that will be given consideration.”
Question: Jim, when you talk about the injuries and everything last year, how satisfying is it to know that when healthy—Josh is a 20 to 25 Home Run Guy and Scott has thrown over 200 innings in The Big Leagues?
Jim: “There is a reason the arbitration process happens for players. And it happens after three years of service because at that point, to a certain extent, proven what they are capable of doing. Both of these guys have had two to three years in The Major Leagues, we feel they are both coming into their own and certainly we know what we can expect from both of them.”
Question: With Austin Kearns, Milledge and Dukes already coming back and on the roster, how do you see the outfield sorting out as you go forward into Spring Training?
Jim: “I am always a big fan of competition. Competition always exists on teams that are good. Whenever you have depth, you also have means to make other deals to make your team better in other areas. Those are decisions that Manny will make when we get to Spring Training and have our team set at that point.”
Question: Scott, you talked about your third pitch. How far have you developed maturity-wise and mentally over the past few years? And how has that made you better?
Scott: “Coming up in The Minor Leagues, you don’t have access to a lot of things that you have now (in The Big Leagues). And one of the things is video watching and the advanced scouting we have. I think as you play this game and you mature in the game, you start using those things (to your advantage) and I think that is a part of the maturity process of any pitcher. It’s taking full access of all of the things that are given to you in order to succeed. And I don’t think a lot of people use all those things. So, I think that’s a part of it. I don’t really know how to answer the rest of your question.”
Question: “For both of you—Scott & Josh—were you expecting to be traded? Did you anticipate The Marlins would deal you guys and did you have any thoughts about where you might want to go? (Before Washington)
Josh: “Well, you knew there were going to be some deals made because of the significant number of players that were going to be going through arbitration. Now, as far as who, you didn’t know who. I think they (The Marlins) made it pretty obvious that they were going to make some deals. I didn’t have a clue I was going to be in it until last night.”
Scott: “I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be moved just based on the situation. In all the starting pitchers they have in Florida, they also have a lot of guys in AA that are a year, if not less, away from The Big Leagues there. So, I had a good feeling, it was just a matter of where and when this was all going to be finalized.”
Question: “You had some controversy in ’05 & ’06 & ’07. What did you say to yourself in ’08 to say no controversy on the field—this is strictly baseball?
Scott: “I didn’t really say anything to myself. I did not sit down and have a heart to heart moment with myself. But I knew that something just had to change. It just started off slow and you just try to keep yourself out of situations where there might be a problem. That’s the biggest thing with all this maturing and everything that everybody claims that I have done. I think it just comes down to one thing—and just don’t be in situations where something might happen.”
Question: What does this trade send as a message to your own clubhouse as opposed to the fans? You lose 100 Games morale tends to ebb. This has got to be good news for them (the players) as well?
Jim: “I don’t think there is any question it’s a boost. It shows that you have the commitment of winning. A commitment we continue to go in the right direction and we are not going to wait for The Farm System to develop players here. We said when we were building up our development and scouting that one of the means of using that would be for trades. And we’ve lived up to that. I give a lot of credit to Dana Brown (Scouting Director) and Mike Rizzo (Asst. GM, VP Baseball Operations) and Jimmy Gonzales and Chris Kline (National Crosschecker) and our Scouting Department. They did a tremendous job scouting Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean. Without the great scouting, without the commitment from Stan and Ownership, to be able to go and draft the best players on the board, this trade does not happen for us. And really that’s how they are here today because of our Scouting Department and our commitment to scouting.”
Question: Josh, Scott, you have both seen the ballpark here. How has it been like for you as a hitter and pitcher? And also, Nation’s Capital—what does that feel like, do you have any connections here?
Josh: “Well, the ballpark itself, from what I have seen, the ballpark plays pretty fair. I’ve seen some balls and I have hit a couple of balls here that I hit well that got out (for a home run). And also, I have seen some balls that were hit to the deep part of the ballpark that you really have to hit them to get them out. So, from a hitter’s perspective, it’s a fair ballpark. And I think that coming here to Washington, DC is just, I don’t really know how to say it, it’s kind of special. It’s a nice place. I have always enjoyed coming here playing with The Marlins and playing in this area. And to be able to be a part of a city like this is going to be fun.”
Scott: “I like the ballpark. I think I have pitched here twice and had pretty good results. Like he said, it’s pretty fair. I like that 20-foot wall out there in the right centerfield gap. So, I am a big fan of that (everyone chuckling). And as far as DC goes, I am not too sure. I’ve never lived here before and I don’t know what to expect, but I am looking forward to it.”
Question: Jim, the acquisition of Josh, where do you see him in the batting lineup and is this sending a message to Ryan Zimmerman that we got you some help for you?
Jim: “First of all, the manager makes the decision of where they bat in the lineup. Certainly, Josh has hit everywhere, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and gives you good At-Bats. And certainly anytime you add a quality hitter to the lineup you are improving the players hitting around him. So, I certainly think he helps our lineup.”
Question: Jim, a lot of rumors floating out there. Can you give us a preview?
Jim: “No, our preference is to actually make the moves and then announce it. It seems to work better with the players and Stan and Ownership (chuckling).”
Question: But you are still active?
Jim: "We’ve been very active and very aggressive. During The General Managers Meetings, we had many meetings with clubs. We met with agents for Free Agents and we are exploring every possibility, anyway that we can possibly make our team better for the long term and we will continue to do so.”
Question: Are you still looking at pretty good financial flexibility, you lost some $5 Million Contracts, picked up a couple others. Do you still have the flexibility to go after Free Agents?
Jim: “I would say that we have flexibility. That we have, no question, that Stan and Ownership want to build an organization that wants to win, not just for the short term, but the long term. And we are continuing along our same plan—that’s not going to be changed because of one (bad) year that we had. We are continuing along those lines. If there was a Free Agent that would fit into the long term plan—that’s a possibility. I think our preference is always is to always build through the draft and trades. All of us agree that that is the best way to do it. But, we look at other avenues, including Free Agency, of course we would be stultified not too.”
Question: For Jim or Mike, can you talk about your evaluation of Bonifacio? What made you decide you could part with him after trading for him in August?
Mike Rizzo: “Emilio is as good as advertised when we got him. A plus, plus runner with game changing speed. A good defensive player and a bat in transit. We thought he was coming along and he is an exciting player. But you have to give to get and to get a 24-Year-Old Left-handed Starting Pitcher and an established power corner player; you have to give up some things to get them. And Bonifacio was painful to give up—as were the two young players (Dean & Smolinski). In this industry, to land a position player and a pitcher or their ability level, you have to give up something.”
Question: Josh, can you tell us how your back is? What kind of concern that is going forward?
Josh: “The back is good, it’s really good. And it’s been really good since I was able to come back and play, since late June, I don’t remember the exact date I came back. It was healthy, it just took me a little while to get going when I came back and it’s been great ever since.”
Question: Has anyone said your back problem could flare up again? It won’t be a surprise to you?
Josh: “You never know what is going to happen, but it’s something I am a lot more comfortable managing myself. I know what the Doctors think and it’s something we have planned if it flares up. But, the back is looking really good.”
Question: Josh, just for clarification, your back issues in 2007, is that related to the six weeks you were out this year? Were those related issues?
Josh: “Yeah, they were related issues and it was just basically, I think it happen in the middle of September of ’07, but, yeah, they are related.”
Question: You guys have been in this division for some time. On this team presently, who do you know? Who are you friends with?
Josh: “Oh, I figured out pretty quick you can’t hit it to third (base) on this team! It usually gets caught over there. (By Ryan Zimmerman—everyone chuckling). But, nah, obviously, Zim impresses you with everything he does on the baseball field. They (The Nationals) were kind of like us in ’06. They had a lot of good young players. You face guys a lot, like you said, you play a team 19 times, and you get a pretty good idea of how a team is. These guys that run out there—Shawn Hill really impressed me as a player. I have always respected (Austin) Kearns as an outfielder and player. I could go down the list, but they have some good players.”
Question: Josh, considering you could have been sent anywhere; is there some familiarity to staying in The National League East?
Josh: “Sure, as a position player, I think that when you talk about facing the same kind of pitching, the starters from these guys, The Phillies, The Mets and now The Marlins—I think it will be good (for him). You face these guys a lot. You know what to expect. I knew what to expect when I came here to face these guys multiple times like (Odalis) Perez, (Tim) Redding and those guys. So, I think that's the one good thing about staying in the east.”
That answer concluded the formal press conference. At this point, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen, Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo were available for individual questions with the media. Transcripts of those conversations coming later.