Friday, December 11, 2009

Nats320 Winter Meetings Review With Phil Wood


With the 2009 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings now concluded, MASN's Phil Wood and I got together via phone to discuss what happened involving Our Washington Nationals over the past three days in Indianapolis. We chatted for quite some time looking at not only the moves made this week, but what fans might expect to see from Our General Manager Mike Rizzo and his baseball operations staff before Spring Training 2010 commences in Viera, Florida this coming February.

With that--here we go with the Nats320 Winter Meetings Review With Phil Wood:

What did you think of the Rule V Draft? Did you think that Rizzo called it right and there was nothing special really available, so that is why they traded for Brian Bruney? (SBF)

“I talked to a lot of people about Bruney and no one is saying anything bad about him. He had the elbow problem last year and he spent two years on the disabled list, but he was back and he didn’t have any issues the last few months of the season (2009) and pitched in the post-season. This is the guy that The Yankees once looked at as the heir-apparent to Mariano Rivera. So I think there is a real upside to him. The deal itself, there was no one in the Rule V Draft that they felt was going to be guaranteed to make the Big League roster. So, it’s a deal that makes a lot of sense. Although, one of the stories (circulating) was that The Yankees made the trade to protect one of their own people. They were going to ask The Nationals to draft Zach Kroenke and then trade him back to The Yankees for Bruney. But that wasn’t the deal. Then Kroenke was then drafted by Arizona in the Major League phase of the draft. They lost him anyway. Look, Bruney is going to help. Pudge Rodriguez is not an everyday player. But after (journeyman catcher) Greg Zaun got the deal that he got from The Brewers for one year—$2.75 Million, suddenly the deal for Pudge didn’t seem that far out of line. He (Rodriguez) didn’t have much of an on-base percentage this past season, but he still managed to hit 10 home runs and is still pretty good behind the plate.”

I think he just brings a professional attitude to the team and that will wear off on some people. (SBF)

“Well, first of all, both he and Jesus Flores are represented by Scott Boras. They know each other. Flores grew up a big fan of Rodriguez--so I think there is going to be some synergy there between those two. Now, they (The Nationals) told us the team doctors believe that Flores will be 100% by Spring Training, but that remains to be seen, I think.”

“Now, the other thing is that they are “IN” very deeply with Jason Marquis and John Smoltz. I don’t know if that is going to bear fruit, but people I talk to, the agents that are here, and some of the executives from the other clubs—say The Nationals aren’t trying to nickel and dime anybody.”

Since you mentioned that, there was that quote from Rizzo the other day where, when it comes to starting pitching, he was hoping somebody would basically fall to them. Was that more a cloud of smoke to cover what they are really doing? (SBF)

“Well, obviously, he understands there is a lot of competition for starting pitching. Like for instance, Jason Marquis is not a Cy Young winner, but he’s fairly solid. The Rockies declined his option for $9.75 Million and he wants to make, at least, that much money. And apparently, The Nationals don’t have an issue with paying him that much money. The other team they say is in on Marquis is Philadelphia, but they are also putting together a package to get Roy Halladay. If they (The Phillies) got Roy Halladay and already have Cliff Lee—I don’t think they are going to be that hot on Jason Marquis.”

“Now the Smoltz thing really interests me a lot because I think, even though he is 42 (years old), in this setting (Washington’s) he would be effective as, not a Number 1 Starter, but Number 2 or 3 starter. Just to have his voice in the clubhouse would be terrific. This is the smartest baseball player I think I have ever talked to.”

I remember we talked about just that in October during our post-season chat. I agree. I think he would be a good addition just for what he brings to the game in his head. (SBF)

There was a trade yesterday, basically The Braves are dumping the hard throwing, and sometimes closer, Rafael Soriano and it looks like Atlanta just gave him away to The Tampa Bay Rays for middle reliever Jesse Chavez in a salary dump. Is there any reason The Nationals would have been interested in, or could have been interested in, or should have been interested in acquiring him? (SBF)

“I’ll tell you what. I think they liked him. In terms of acquiring him and paying him what he would probably get in arbitration (over $6 million)—they don’t see him as a lockdown type of closer. They just don’t see him as a guy who is a multi-million dollar closer. They are talking about giving Bruney a shot at closing, but if Mike MacDougal has a strong spring—I think it is a moot point. But I think they are still talking to the agent for Mike Gonzalez. It’s just one of those jobs (closer), on a ball club that lost 100-plus games—you have to ask yourself how many save opportunities will there be?”

The Nationals have stated, you have stated, even I have stated—this week was not the finish line—but the start. Other than Marquis, Smoltz, Gonzalez—what others options might Mike Rizzo be cooking up? (SBF)

“They are still looking for some middle infield depth. We (the media) talked with Rizzo about Cristian Guzman. There is this perception that Guzman is going to be reluctant to play second base. And Rizzo said that it’s even money that he ends up back at shortstop—if, for instance, they come up with another second baseman. They really haven’t been attached to Dan Uggla (Florida), but they have made some deals with Florida in the past. I think Uggla is going to end up with someone other than The Nationals, but if there is another second baseman out there they feel can be an everyday player—they will attempt to go for him.”

If The Nationals are interested in Ian Desmond playing shortstop and The Nationals are unsure about whether Guzman can, or will play second base—if they go after Uggla—are they committing themselves to a well below average right side of the infield (with Adam Dunn manning 1st base)? (SBF)

“Yeah, absolutely right. The thing about Guzman and I see on some of these message boards: ‘Oh, we got to trade him and pay half of his salary.’ But he is a 10 and 5 guy (10 Years in the Majors, 5 years with the same team).”

They can’t do it without his permission (SBF)

“Exactly right. He CAN VETO ANY TRADE!! Whether it is The Washington Post or Times or whatever—nobody even brings that up. But all you have got to do is look at his page in The Baseball Encyclopedia and count the number of seasons and the number of years with Washington. He is a 10 & 5 Guy—simple as that.”

Personally, I have never felt he’s been that bad of player over the past few years. (SBF)

“He doesn’t walk much and that is always the biggest gripe. But honestly, 40 years ago, no one would have cared. Fantasy baseball is such a big deal, they are all looking for guys with high on-base percentages, but his on-base percentage isn’t bad. He puts the ball in play. It’s the idea that he is impatient at the plate—and he is—but that is just the way he plays. That’s indicative of players from his part of the country (The Caribbean).”

Sure, as far as fielding is concerned, Guzman looses focus in the field. And, at times, he wasn’t really strong at going to his left, but he tends to get to most balls. (SBF)

“All the scouts have him graded as an average shortstop, not below average, just average. He is nothing special at shortstop. And I guess, if you are going to hit .300 every year, you can get by with an average shortstop. Everyone is always looking for the next Cal Ripken, Jr., or the next Alex Rodriguez, or Derek Jeter. But let’s be honest, Jeter is not a spectacular shortstop. He knows where to play the hitters. Look, there is no Ozzie Smith (Hall Of Famer) out there. Pittsburgh signed Bobby Crosby and Crosby is a terrific defensive player who hits about .220. If you want a guy out there just to catch the ball, he’s fine. But the idea of paying Bobby Crosby $1 Million with another $500 thousand in incentives—just doesn’t work for me.”

“The Nationals are paying Guzman $8 Million, but they lost so many games last year because of their bullpen—not because of Guzman. They scored a lot more runs. They scored about 150 more runs last year (than 2008). But the bullpen, the first half of 2009, absolutely killed them.”

Where do you see Washington’s outfield playing out? Are they seriously shopping Josh Willingham? (SBF)

“No, in fact, they made a point of saying he is not available this off-season. Willingham is too young and too productive. Jim Riggleman went on and on about Josh as everything you want in a guy in terms of his make-up. His teammates love him, he is great in the clubhouse. He is certainly great with the media. As Riggleman said—he’s a man. And believe me—Riggleman doesn’t call everyone in that clubhouse a man.”

In his one year here, I find him to be an old school baseball player. So, what about Elijah Dukes in right if Nyjer Morgan is guaranteed centerfield? (SBF)

“Jim is trying his best to figure out Dukes, because Dukes will do anything for Tim Foli. Foli has just pushed the right buttons and Riggleman is trying to find it. He (Dukes) can be a monster player, but there are times where the battery in his hearing aid is dead. You talk to him and it just doesn’t register. Foli, for whatever reason, just makes it happen.”

Speaking of Foli, why is he not on the Major League Coaching Staff—he seems to have a lot of respect? (SBF)

“I think they wanted to avoid a situation like you see with other ball clubs where someone gets a job to be manager and is then not allowed to bring his own people in. Foli is an organization guy and they like Foli very much and they are paying Foli very, very well. Because Foli has been in the organization and has been very key in player development—they (Washington) wanted to give Riggleman an honest shot and the only way to do it was let him name his own coaches. He hired these guys that were all about his age. Guys he has worked with in the past, whether with The Dodgers or The Cardinals or The Mariners. I think that is the only fair way to do it. If you look back to what happened in Baltimore—when Lee Mazzilli was hired as manager—he wasn’t allowed to hire any of his own coaches. You can’t do that in this day and age. You have to give these guys their own coaches, there own support staff.”

Knowing you covered The Orioles for years, you probably know and have talked with John McLaren (New Bench Coach) many times. What do you think of him? Here is a situation where McLaren was fired as Seattle manager—Riggleman replaced him. Now, Riggleman replaces a fired manager—keeps the job--and hires back McLaren? It’s sort of odd. (SBF)

“Yeah, I know. John McLaren is a real smart guy. John McLaren was just in the wrong place (in Seattle). He is a guy who probably should have replaced Lou Piniella earlier in his career. He was with Piniella for a long, long time. McLaren just got the job at the wrong time. When you look at the year The Mariners won 88 games (2007), and people thought they were on their way (to a championship), you talk to guys who were coaches on that team—and they couldn’t figure out how this bunch of players won 88 games.”

So, where do you see The Nationals stacking up after this week and how they ended the 2009 season in rebuilding their team for the future? (SBF)

“If you cut the ’09 season in half, 81 games and 81 games—and my point of comparison is The Orioles here—cut their season in half, 81 games and 81 games. They each had each other’s opposite half. The Orioles second half was very close to The Nationals first half. And The Nationals second half very close to The Orioles first half. Now, going forward, even though people in Baltimore think The Orioles young pitchers are all going to win the Cy Young simultaneously, I think The Nationals are actually in better shape going forward. With Stephen Strasburg coming along, with Drew Storen coming along, and some of their younger guys, Washington is better positioned. Interestingly enough, down here (in Indianapolis), there was interest in Craig Stammen—which I think was surprising. A lot of people (teams) think Stammen is the perfect 4th or 5th starter. Nonetheless, I think The Nationals—coming off the way they finished last year—would have been even better if—let’s be honest—Nyjer Morgan had not been hurt. When they lost Morgan, they fell into the hole again and didn’t really get better until those last seven games of the year. Riggleman is going to let Willingham rest a little more often and he feels like Josh will not have the September slump like he had last year. He also feels Adam Dunn is the first baseman now and can trust him out there day after day. They (The Nationals) don’t even think of him as an outfielder anymore.”

“But I think the groundwork that was laid here we should know more—let’s say—by mid-January. I think we will have a much better idea of what they are going to be able to do with the pitching staff. If they end up with a Jason Marquis or they end up with a Jon Garland, or John Smoltz—and bring back Livan Hernandez for the back end of the rotation—they won’t be great or world beaters, but I think they will be a heck of a lot closer to .500 than they were when they started last year with you and me in the bullpen.” (Laughter)

But the moves you see Washington make from now until the end of spring training—are they more likely to be a free agent signings than the workings of any major trade? (SBF)

“I can’t imagine there is much on the roster that other teams want that The Nationals are willing to move. You are basically looking at a 40-man roster now that will be jimmied with as soon as they sign another free agent or two. But I think, yeah, that’s about it. I don’t think they are likely to trade any of their young pitchers, certainly. Nor do I think there is anyone on the roster, including Willingham, Ryan Zimmerman and maybe Dunn.”

“It’s funny the number of writers from out of town papers who are still not quite sure who The Nationals are. I had conversations here in Indianapolis, for instance when Washington picked up Bruney, and others were saying ‘what other relief pitchers do The Nationals even have? Who are these guys? Well they lost a lot of games—they are not worth covering.’ So I think The Nationals may be in a position to sneak up on some people. And I will tell you this—one of things they have done that has impressed the most people are their front office hires. I talked to people from 10 or 11 different organizations. They all said the guys Washington hired were not cheap guys. They hired guys who have strong track records and they are paying them premium money to work for them.”

Is it interesting to you that the national media—those around the country—still seem to make fun of The Nationals, but from talking to you and even Craig Heist (from WTOP) the other day—inside baseball, there is a lot more respect for Washington’s team than what there was before. (SBF)

“There is and it’s all been since last March when Jim Bowden left. Everybody loves Rizzo in baseball. Everybody respects Rizzo and he has re-polished the finish on the team. A lot of people still forget that Major League Baseball owned the team the first two seasons (in D.C.). There is this perception that The Lerners have been in charge since day one. People have forgotten how the farm system was decimated by Omar Minaya (Caretaker GM in Montreal—now with The New York Mets). It’s kind of the re-educating of these people. The Nationals became a laughingstock, but during the second half of 2009, they had a better record than five or six teams. So it is going to take a season where they finish with 82 or more victories, or a season where they get a reputation as a team that doesn’t quit—something has to happen positively—so the national media across the country will see the team in a different light. There are too many lazy people in my business that just don’t want to be bothered. ‘Oh yeah, The Nationals, they stink. The teams from Washington always stink.’ They don’t want to hear anything else. They don’t want to be bothered looking anything else up.”

With Strasburg coming up and the team seemingly liking Storen, Stammen too—do you think that is why they are not looking to make a big splash in any free agent pitching signing? (SBF)

“I would be surprised to not see Storen up by the All-Star Break. If Strasburg gets off to a real strong start—and they are going to be real careful not to bring him up too soon to make him a Super Two and be eligible for arbitration or free agency sooner—I think that is a situation they are going to monitor real closely. And I think they are real hesitant to rush him to the Major Leagues—seeing all the burnouts of young pitchers over the last 34 years.”

Do you think they also might feel Ross Detwiler or Craig Stammen can’t really make much more progress down in the minors and for that reason they could move one of them to the bullpen to continue giving them Major League experience? (SBF)

“I don’t think that anybody in the organization sees Ross Detwiler as a relief pitcher. I think, because of his make-up, and the fact that he doesn’t throw the ball 95 miles per hour and is more a finesse pitcher, he is going to have to be a starter. If he doesn’t come out of spring training with the team—they will send him back to AAA Syracuse. They have high hopes for him. Now that he has gotten back to the mechanics he had in college, which is not necessarily pretty and the way you want to see it done—it doesn’t seem to cause much stress on his elbow. It is going to be a battle to fill out the rotation spots. John Lannan is a lock, but it is going to be very interesting at spring training figuring out the rest.”

Anything else that interested you at The Winter Meetings that maybe wasn’t really covered because the media was just chasing the latest news? (SBF)

“I spent some time with Manny Acta and for a guy who was 26-61 (before being fired as Manager of Our Washington Nationals), everybody in baseball thinks he is the greatest. I love Manny too, but it brings us back to judging him just on wins and losses. Like this post I read on nationals.com where somebody said: ‘well obviously, Jim Riggleman is a much better manager because he turned the team around with a better record.’ They never want to bring up the personnel Manny had and how the personnel changed once Jim became manager. But Manny is rocking and rolling. He did tell me The Indians probably wouldn’t be able to trade my daughter because of her contract (Joking—Phil’s daughter’s name is Keri Wood). In fact, untradeable. Manny said that every single time he thinks about his bullpen (and Kerry Wood), he thinks about my daughter.” (Funny)

With that final tidbit—the Nats320 Winter Meetings Review With Phil Wood concluded. Many thanks to both Phil and Craig Heist from WTOP (earlier this week) for taking time out to speak about this week’s events in Indianapolis.

5 comments:

Positively Half St. said...

SBF-

Thanks. Quality work that fills part of the void in coverage, as always.

+1/2St.

William said...

Two things:
1) We need to sign Livan Hernandez. He likes being in DC, he's good for around 200 innings, and based off the deals he's signed for the last two years I don't think he can honestly be that expensive.
2) Not to beat a dead horse, but my main issue when anything involving Acta is brought up is the lack of apparent discipline on the team while he was manager. Yeah he didn't have the best personnel, and I thought he was too passive in non playing "small ball," but what really killed me was the amount of errors we committed. It doesn't matter what team you field, people need to be able to make routine plays, and be held accountable if they don't. Acta didn't do that.

An Briosca Mor said...

It's all well and good to say that a manager needs to hold players accountable, but still that can only go as far as the players you have. If Player A who maybe isn't all that good in the first place slacks off and you hold him accountable for that by sitting him down, then you're reduced to putting in Player B who is worse than A anyway, because otherwise he'd have been playing in the first place. The thing that holds players accountable and keeps them from getting comfortable with their laziness is the presence of a young and hungry guy behind them who realistically could take their job away from them. The Nats have never had that. And there's really nothing a manager can do about that other than in the short term. Benchings, chewing outs, fines or whatever might get a guy to improve for a couple of games or a week, but sooner or later he's going to realize the emptiness of that threat because there's no one breathing down his neck for his job.

The bottom line with Manny Acta is that there was nothing he could have done to change things as long as all his players were lousy. It sure would have been nice to see what he could have done in the second half with Nyjer Morgan and without Cabrera and that godawful first half bullpen.

VCUAlum Kyle said...

SBF,
Thanks for the winter meetings coverage. I have been watching MLB tv every night to get the latest info.

I am happy with the Pudge trade and the the Bruney trade. I wish we made a run at Chone Figgins b/c he is so versatile and him and Tony Plush would have been awesome to watch on the basepaths.

I wish we would have gone after a guy like Kevin Millwood but if Texas wanted bullpen guys, we all know we really don't have bullpen guys anymore.

The real question is can guys like Ross Detwiller, Sharion Martis, Craig Stammen, & others live up to the hype. If Detwiller becomes a bust, we can blame that on Bowden, but it would def set the Nats back if he is a total bust.

Spring Training will be here soon and I can't wait since college football season is over.

Happy Holidays.

SenatorNat said...

If you are making educated guesses on whom the Nationals shall eventually sign this off-season as free agent pitchers, look to see if: 1. Rizzo once scouted or signed him originally for D-Backs; and/or 2. he played in his career for Braves. Bruney fits first criterion; Marquis, Smoltz, Gonzolez fit the second. My hunch is they would prefer to put the money they might spend on Livo towards paying Smoltz so they might pair a Hall of Fame battery for Sundays to fill the stadium and the like, and spend $10 million on Marquis whose record is similar to Garland's overall anyway. If Smoltz is too expensive or unavailable, then money that would have gone to Livo perhaps better put towards trying to sign Mike Gonzolez for the pen. At the end of the day, I believe Nats will ink Marquis or Padilla, one more reliever, and ink back Livo very late in the process.

As to infield help, still think they believe they can get Orlando Hudson, again late in the process, for economical terms.

Trust in the braintrust banking on the familiar. All encouraging.
(Skins will sign Weiss as OC and draft Claussen to be "the next Tom Brady;" keep Zorn as puppet head coach, thus giving Vinnie C even more authority in 2010 - makes one happy to be a Nats Nut, doesn't it?)