Friday, October 23, 2009

Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood--Part Two

Washington Baseball Historian and MASN Broadcaster Phil Wood spent the the first part of our lunch time chat discussing philosophy. What Our Washington Nationals are attempting to accomplish with personnel since Mike Rizzo was named permanent General Manager. And when we concluded yesterday's Part One--Phil was beginning to touch on Mr. Rizzo's recent front office hires. So that's where we pick up today followed by an in-depth look at what Washington currently has and should keep on their 2010 Major League Roster.

With that, here we go with Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood, Part Two.

What do you know about these recent Front Office hires—Roy Clark, Johnny DiPuglia and Doug Harris? (SBF)

“Harris I had heard of because he had scouted with The Rangers for years and was just with Cleveland last season. He’s a veteran, but the scouts I have talked to with other clubs say Roy Clark is as sharp as a tack. I don’t know what they (The Nationals) are paying him, but the point was made that to get a guy like Roy Clark to leave where he was (Atlanta) to come to Washington—they probably paid pretty well for the privilege. The guy from The Red Sox—DiPuglia—he’s had great success scouting Latin American countries for The Red Sox. The Nationals needed a greater presence there after the whole “Smiley” Gonzalez debacle and Jose Rijo. They’ve hired some really good people. Certainly, Rizzo has been around long enough that he knows where all the good people are.”

These hires are all Rizzo? This has his mark all over it? (SBF)

“Absolutely. When Rizzo was hired in 2006 (VP and Assistant General Manager) right after the club was awarded to the Lerner’s, Riz was one of the first hires. A friend of mine—a long time National League Scout—told me Kasten brought Rizzo in to be the next GM. And I think the expectations throughout baseball was that Rizzo would be the GM between six months to a year—because it was well known that Stan Kasten was not a fan of Jim Bowden. But Bowden had ingratiated himself to ownership and was basically able to keep his job. Of course Stan had to say nice things about Jim, which I am sure, wasn’t easy at times. But people knew that Bowden would eventually implode and it happened. And Rizzo was there to pick up the pieces.”

“You look at the job he did once that transition took place—it was remarkable. Rizzo did a remarkable job. All of these others saying it’s going to be Jerry Dipoto (Arizona Scouting Director). Jerry Dipoto? Jerry Dipoto has been an executive for a while, but he’s never been a GM. It was well known he wanted to be a GM. The idea that The Nationals would let Rizzo go through what he went through, then go through the Strasburg deal, sign Strasburg on Friday and Monday Mike cleans out his desk—that didn’t make any sense!!”

We didn’t believe it. (SBF)

“All along, I never bought into the whole thing either about Dipoto or any other guy coming in to supplant Rizzo. And in the end, I think Kasten accomplished what he set out to do once he first hired Mike. It took a while longer than expected, but I don’t think they would have made Mike go through that dance if there wasn’t going to be some Hot Fudge Sundae on the other end.”

All the rumors really just made no sense. (SBF)

“Mike is a guy who I believe has the ‘make-up’ of a (John) Schuerholz (long time Atlanta GM, now Braves President) in a sense he is not prone to panic modes. He is very deliberate about things and I think there is a payoff there. Mike's dad was a scout. Mike played minor league baseball (in The Angels system) and recognized he didn’t have the wherewithal to play in the Major Leagues and got into the backroom part of baseball. From the very first time I met him when he first got his first job in Washington, he was impressive. Mike knows every scout in baseball—for every team. He knows EVERYBODY!! And I have yet to find anybody to say: ‘you know, he is weak in this area. Or he is good at this, but not at that.’ Everybody thinks the world of him. And because so many people in the game want to see him succeed, there is something very positive about Mike Rizzo as GM. Again, Rizzo as GM. Riggleman as Manager—that works for me.”

Are you surprised Bob Boone has made his way through this changeover and will continue in his role (as Assistant GM—VP of Player Development)? (SBF)

“If you had asked me that six weeks ago, I would have said—yes. But now finding out that once Bowden left and whether it was a sit-down with Rizzo or maybe well before that—Bob wanted to make sure that people knew that while, yes, he had known Bowden in Cincinnati and yes—he had been hired by Jim for The Nationals--that in general he did not consider himself a Bowden Guy. Because he had been around the game for so long, as a player, coach and manager, he felt like he pre-dated Bowden. Certainly, he gave advice to Bowden, but Bowden didn’t always take it. So I think he successfully convinced everyone: ‘I worked for him but I am not his boy.’ Since then, there are scouts who were saying earlier to me that Bob will probably be gone once the season is over. Well, you know what—they are saying now they think Bob and Mike have found a real connection. Whether it’s in terms of special assignments or whatever, I think Bob Boone figures to be around for a while unless somebody else offers him a job.”

I have always thought Dana Brown to be an unsung hero of sorts. Are you surprised to see him go to Toronto as Special Assistant to The New GM? (SBF)

“They (The Nationals) probably thought Dana would be around for a while, but being an assistant GM is a little bit better. Apparently he and Alex Anthopoulos have a history together which I wasn’t aware of. Any time you get a chance—especially at Dana’s age—to move up even if it’s just a tiny move up—you have to do it. Although let’s be honest, The Toronto Blue Jays are not likely to win the American League East any time soon. They can be competitive, but that’s about it right now.”

So we are now in the off-season, Rizzo is truly in control. What does he need to do? (SBF)

“There are a couple of determinations that need to be made. First of all you have to see if Jesus Flores will be able to play 130 games? And if he is not, you have to do something about that. You have to get another catcher. I don’t think you want to go into a season with (Josh) Bard & (Wil) Nieves as your two catchers. Now, I will say this. If you add up their numbers they did OK. Neither one of them is much of a threat at the plate. Nieves not much more than a threat to hit a single to right field. Bard is a switch hitter and he has some power, but he’s not a very good receiver. He’s adequate. Derek Norris is a couple of years away, but Norris may end up as an infielder when he gets to the Major Leagues. If you decide that Flores isn’t going to be an everyday guy, then you maybe look for a left-handed hitter who is a good receiver. A veteran, a young veteran in their late 20’s, early 30’s because catching is such a critical spot. Again, if Flores is healthy, I think you have to give him another shot and you go into it (Spring Training) assuming he is not going to get hurt again.”

“You are set at third base (Ryan Zimmerman). At first base, I think you are set (with Adam Dunn). The point is that Adam only has a year to go on his deal. I think if they could go back in time, they (Washington) would have signed him for more than two seasons. But if you talk to Adam, Adam is not unhappy. He is not unhappy in Washington. He and Ryan Zimmerman have become very, very tight. And I think he would be open to an extension. But obviously, if Albert Pujols becomes a free agent and declares that he wants to play close to The White House (joking), all bets are off at that point. But seriously, look; Dunn did what they got him here to do. He produced a lot of offense. He had a higher batting average than he ordinarily does. He walked a lot and was a great guy in the clubhouse.”

“The trade last year with The Marlins. If they (Washington) had gone into the season with (Josh) Willingham playing every day then I have no doubt Willingham would have hit 30 homers. And again, there is another guy with great make-up and he is a couple of years away from walking away as a free agent. Those fans that have been posting on these online bulletin boards: ‘oh, they have to trade Willingham. They have to trade Dunn.’ Well, why? Why do they have to trade them? Willingham is just 30 years of age. He is a dangerous hitter. And frequently, he was a dangerous fielder (chuckling). He had some adventures out in leftfield I didn’t expect. But as I look now at guys on other teams having the same issue, there had to be something going on with the lights or something (at Nationals Park). Be that as it may, Willingham can play. Nyjer Morgan can clearly play. And if they had a vote for Most Valuable Player this year, I would vote for him (Morgan). He made all the difference in the world.”

Was Nyjer playing over his head? (SBF)

“No, I don’t think so. I think this was the first place he played where he wasn’t labeled—as he was in Pittsburgh—as just a speedy guy who can play the outfield—not a guy who can put the club on his back and be an offensive catalyst. That is exactly what Rizzo saw in him and clearly that is what he became. He embraced that role. He had a couple of adventures on the bases, but they were errors of aggression and I don’t have a problem with that. But when Nyjer went down—Willie Harris we all like—but he wasn’t Nyjer. He (Harris) wasn’t going to make the same things happen. And then (Elijah) Dukes in rightfield. I like Elijah Dukes a lot and I think he is a better hitter than he was. He still has the occasional adventure in rightfield. He’s that toolsy guy who doesn’t have all the greatest instincts in the world. But, he’s shown a great willingness to work on it.”

Were you surprised to see Dukes recalled in August? (SBF)

“No, actually I was not.”

I thought there was a possibility we might never see him again. (SBF)

“There was danger of that happening because when he went down (to Syracuse), he was completely out of whack at the plate. And I think there was a fear he would sour on being sent to the minor leagues and just shutdown. That didn’t happen. He hit the ball very, very well at Syracuse and he showed a maturity I don’t think they (Washington) were expecting.”

“Up the middle can (Cristian) Guzman play second base? I am sure he can. He did not play it last year out of any conceit or anything. He just had never played 2nd Base and his point was: ‘you are not going to make a veteran play a position he has never played before’ at the risk of embarrassing himself this late in the season when The Nationals are hopelessly out of the race. He stayed at shortstop and kind of got banged up and was basically a pinch hitter the final weeks of the season. But he’s got a year to go on his contract. He showed a little bit more patience at the plate. When he walked twice in one game I nearly keeled over! (Laughing) However you want to slice it, he is another one of those guys, another one of those middle infielders who if they can reach it, they are going to swing at it. Obviously, he didn’t hit .300 this year, but he came close. He was well over .300 for a period of time. He had that foot problem and any number of things that probably impacted his swing—but with a year to go (on his contract)—I don’t think they want to pay him to go away. I think Guzman is still capable of being a productive player at second base.”

But you feel he will move to 2nd base? (SBF)

“Oh, he will move to 2nd base. There will be no issues with that. It just came down to…..”

Timing. (SBF)

‘Yes, timing. Perhaps if he (Guzman) had been 100% at that point in time, he might have moved then. His biggest fault, from my perspective is, if he was a victim of a drive-by shooting on the way to the park--he wouldn’t tell anyone about it (chuckling). He would wrap an ace bandage around it, put a uniform on it and hope no one notices he’s bleeding. (Laughing)

He never says anything about any injury. (SBF)

“He just wants to play so badly—and you have to respect him for that. This has already happened a couple of times since he got here. He’s gotten hurt and he tries to compensate for it and do anything to stay in the lineup. There are a lot of other players out there who would milk it (injuries), but he (Guzman) is not one of those guys.”

Then what about shortstop? (SBF)

“Can Desmond play shortstop everyday in the Major Leagues? I don’t know the answer to that. Some scouts have said he is one of those guys that will be a better fielder in the Major Leagues than the Minor Leagues. Well, I guess, we will have to wait and see. But, on the other hand, if they had an opportunity to pick up a J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee Shortstop), I think you would have to go with someone like that. Hardy is coming off an off-year offensively.”

Hardy has been mentioned is a few stories I have read. If Washington were interested in him--whom would they give up to receive him? (SBF)

“I think because Washington has a lot of arms in their system you have to look there. I think you also look at the Big League Pitching Staff now. You see (John) Lannan as a sure thing. We read some of the scouts at Stephen Strasburg’s first Arizona Fall League start say he should be Washington’s Opening Day starter. He is better than anything they have now. So, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, Stephen Strasburg is with the club from April on next season. So you have Strasburg, you have Lannan and after that you have to decide. Will (Scott) Olsen be 100%? I don’t know. But Olsen doesn’t have much in trade value because of his surgery. You are going to have to wait another year for Jordan Zimmermann. But from my perspective, the thought of having a Strasburg, Zimmermann and Lannan top of the rotation—well the back end could be you and me! You want better than that, obviously. But we have three guys; you think, in Strasburg’s case, Zimmermann’s case—great command, terrific fastball. And a solid young pitcher in Lannan.”

“J.D. Martin made a good case for himself for the 2010 season with the way he pitched in September. (Craig) Stammen I am a little bit on the fence about.”

How about Garrett Mock and Ross Detwiler? (SBF)

“Ross Detwiler to me is the wild card because once he came back (to the Big League Club) and they said go ahead and throw across your body—he was much better. He was far more relaxed out there. I can’t look at him and not think he is the guy that delivers my papers (young and thin body build). He looks so young. His last couple of starts were pretty good, he got that first win. I can see Detwiler, if he has a strong spring, start the season on the Major League Staff.”

“Mock is enigmatic. Mock I think has a future as a Major League Pitcher, but whatever light bulb needs to go on--is just flickering right now. He has some innings where he is brilliant and some innings where his command is off and he keeps going back to the same well. He leaves something up and he’s looking over his shoulder (at the hits going past him). He is still a young guy and I think the ball club looks at Mock as having more upside than Martin or Stammen. The results haven’t quite been there yet. There are some other guys who are in the system that can throw, but they are a little bit further down in the system.”

“Talking about trades, and I bring up The Marlins because they have dealt with Washington in the past. Can you imagine if Josh Johnson was available?

I would take him in a heartbeat. He throws smoke. (SBF)

“If The Marlins are really and truly going to try to move Josh Johnson, Dan Uggla, Jeremy Hermida—to get an arm like Josh Johnson—maybe you take something else you don’t want and maybe trade someone you might not want to get rid of. Somebody young who has a high ceiling. I just think Josh Johnson is one of the best right-handed pitchers in baseball and he’s one of those special guys if you can pick him up—it’s a coup.”

Did not Josh Johnson have the same surgery that Jordan Zimmermann had? (SBF)


And he still throws that hard. (SBF)

“He’s got a pitcher’s body (tall, big legs). He’s a big guy, throws hard, has a decent breaking ball and has that great make-up.”

What does Rizzo do about the bullpen? Are there really any keepers already there? (SBF)

“Yeah, I think there are. He had more walks than strikeouts, but I have to bring back Mike MacDougal. He’s kind of an interesting story. Mike’s dad was a Washington Senators Bat Boy in the 1950’s. And Tom (Mike’s Dad) pitched in the Kansas City A’s Farm System in the 60’s. When Mike first got here, I was talking to him in the dugout and I asked him what else he throws. ‘Well, I throw a slider and kind of a changeup.’ Well, kind of a changeup is really not a changeup. But of course you never saw him throw it because they (Washington) told him not to. And one of the issues he had in Kansas City and Chicago was that he would get away from his great fastball, throw more breaking balls and get into trouble. Everything he throws up there is 95 or 96 MPH, but what the problem is with Mike is that he has so much movement on everything he throws that frequently the ball moves right out of the strike zone. That's where all his walks come from, but I think there is something there. There is something there than can be worked on. Maybe if (Steve) McCatty and some of the other guys have him from spring training on—something can improve.”

Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett? (SBF)

“Sean Burnett is clearly coming back. He’s a very effective lefthander, situational guy. He’s a lock. Bergmann is interesting. Jason is a guy, and this is said about a lot of young pitchers, he doesn’t pitch up to the level of his stuff. He understands that as well as anyone. If you look at the numbers he put up in Syracuse as a reliever—he was great in AAA ball. And he had some great outings with The Nationals and some awful outings for The Nationals. He’s got a solid Major League fastball. He’s got a plus slider. When he has command, he is terrific. And as you saw in ’08 when he was a starter, he was great at times. That game against The Mets at Shea.”

He also nearly pitched a no-hitter in 2007 at RFK Stadium. (SBF)

“I think he is one of those guys that embraces being a Major League player. He wakes up every morning thrilled to be a Major League player. A guy that likes the game enough that when The Dodgers were in town he walked across the field to introduce himself to Joe Torre and had Torre sign a ball for him. Bergmann appreciates the game. He really appreciates the game.”

“The bullpen is an evolving thing. And if you look at what is available in the off-season, there really is not much out there. Would you want to spend $5 to $6 Million per year on a multi-year deal on a closer on a club coming off two straight 100 loss seasons? There are a couple schools of thoughts about a closer, but the conventional wisdom is a 2nd Division Club doesn’t need a dominant closer. So at this point in time, neither one of us expects The Nationals to contend next season, so going out and getting a guy who has had multiple 30 save seasons is not necessarily the way to go.”

“For another season, you can go with MacDougal. Or maybe at some point, Bergmann becomes a closer. The wild card in this is Drew Storen. If Drew Storen has a great spring, I think that Storen is your closer Opening Day.”

From this point on--Phil Wood and I began to discuss specifics about who might be out there for Washington as roster additions this off-season. Free Agents and other creative opportunities that might arise and which General Manager Mike Rizzo might have to consider between now and February, 2010. All that and more coming in Part Three of Talking Nats Baseball With Phil Wood tomorrow.


Crazy Canton Cuts said...

great interview

Phil should look at Ryan Z's blog

Ryan calls for an extension on Dunn in it

says Adam wants to finish his career in DC

paul said...

Phil wood is far and away the smartest person out there commenting on the Nationals. I really miss him on the radio.

Interesting to hear his take on Acta and Riggleman, who lost me a bit when thinking of moving Desmond around the diamond, exactly the wrong move for someone (Desmond) at his level of development. Hearing that it was Desmond's idea sheds a different light on the situation.

None of the managerial candidates mentioned in the press really grab me and make me want to get rid of Riggleman, incidentally. I would be curious to hear what other posters think.

Janet said...

It's always a treat to hear Phil Wood's comments on the team. Thanks for interviewing him and putting this together.