Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mid-Season Thoughts From Phil Wood (Part Two)

Continuing with Part Two of Nats320's conversation with MASN's Phil Wood, the Mid-Season Thoughts turned to Our Washington Nationals Manager. With that here we go with the conclusion:

Nats320: What about Jim Riggleman as manager? How do you rate his work?

Phil Wood: After his first 162 games, he went 70 & 92. Now that’s not world class obviously, but he didn’t have much of a roster. He didn’t have a competitive roster to deal with for a part of that time. I think he is the right guy at the right time. The players like the fact that he’s so upbeat. Any kind of disciplinary thing he handles one on one in his office. He’s a pretty good psychologist in dealing with some of these guys. But the bottom line for me is that people put too much importance on who the manager is? In the final analysis, it’s not who the manager is, it’s who the players are? If Tony LaRussa had said last year he would manage The Nationals, their record would not have been significantly better. If at all, it would be negligibly better, a couple of games maybe.

You saw the recent series between The Cardinals against Colorado (Swept by The Rockies). The Rockies had all those comeback wins and LaRussa couldn’t do anything about it. He put his best guys out there and they still lost. The identity of the manager is not as important. You have to have one and you hope that he is, at least, a good guy, and is good with the media--and is good with the fans. But the idea that you must have a marquee name as manager, I think, is ridiculous.

Earl Weaver had a great run with The Orioles. He comes back in ’85 and manages for the rest of that year. And he manages again in ’86--and he wants to leave in ’86. He wants to leave before the season is over. Edward Bennett Williams (Baltimore’s Owner) says: “if you leave, I am not going to pay you another nickel.” Weaver says: “Oh, alright, then I will stay.” Earl Weaver wanted to leave because they were losing. He looked at his roster and he knew he couldn’t possibly win with those group of guys. There was no chance. So even a person like that understood, you can have a dominant personality as your manager, but it’s not going to matter if you don’t have the players. Do people get stupid overnight? (chuckling) No. I don’t think so. You get thrust into situations where they give you the tools to compete or they don’t. And if they don’t, there is nothing you can do about it.

Buck Showalter is probably going to get The Orioles managerial job. Do I expect them to have a .500 or better record next season? No, I don’t. Maybe not even the year after that because he will come in, see what the personnel situation is--and say get rid of this guy, get rid of that guy and get me one of these--and they will take it from there. But who the manager is, is really of little importance, if you don’t have the personnel.

Nats320: Speaking of personnel, Stan Kasten was quoted the other day stating that one of the goals through 2010 is to find a set starting rotation for 2011. If that was accomplished, The Nationals could seriously compete next year. Do you think they have that capability?

Phil Wood: Yes, I do. Sure. You know by now that Stephen Strasburg is your Number One. And if he’s number one and Jordan Zimmermann--whose throwing in the mid-90’s right now and they are trying to slow him down a little bit--he’s your Number Two and I think he likely will be. Then after that, you look at Jason Marquis as your Number Three or Number Four starter. Or, is Stammen one of those guys? Or does Chien-Ming Wang come back and show that he’s got the stuff that worked for The Yankees? I think there are much better candidates than you’ve ever had since this club arrived in 2005. I think you could end up with a guy like Lannan as your Number Five starter--who would go from Number One to Number Five in one season. But I think that would show everyone, I believe, the progress this franchise has made in terms of starting pitching.

Nats320: You just mentioned Jordan Zimmermann and the fact the team is trying to slow him down. Do you think he, personally, is rushing himself? And that’s a detriment to be concerned about?

Phil Wood: No, because after talking with people who know more about this type of surgery (ligament replacement), the Tommy John surgery has progressed so much over the past several years that recovery is quicker now. The procedure is far more efficient and they know exactly what they are doing when they go in there (and operate). Recovery and return is not easy, but it’s a bit quicker than it used to be because the procedure has been so streamlined.

I think they (The Nationals) are taking the same care with him as they are taking with Strasburg, if for no other reason that he pitched so few innings last year, and will more likely come back next year and be on some kind of an innings count before he’s really allowed to cut loose. The amount of money invested in these guys makes the team want to slow them down. If Jordan Zimmermann thinks he can safely throw in the mid-90’s for three months or even six months--they will try to talk him out of it. It’s going to be a matter of the team saying they want him here for 15 years, instead of eight years. “We don’t want you pitching outside of yourself.”--as they say.

The other guy we never seem to mention anymore is Ross Detwiler. I think he’s got a future as well and here’s a guy who was so completely bored during the rehab process after the surgery and coming back. He’s really itching to get back to it. But he’s another one of those guys who will probably never project as a top of the rotation guy. The potential is there. Other than Marquis or Wang, you are going to have an entirely home grown starting rotation, probably by, I say, 2013.

Nats320: In the final Giants game before the All-Star break, Madison Bumgarner started that day for San Francisco and was actually drafted five spots behind Detwiler in the 2007 draft. It was interesting to see how far Bumgarner has advanced now in his rookie season, where Detwiler has had multiple setbacks and has never really gotten untracked although similar in how they both throw as lefties.

Phil Wood: Bumgarner has four pitches he can throw for strikes and he’s got a better fastball than Detwiler. I think Ross is the type of guy who has better breaking stuff. But they are both classic lefties.

Nat320: So what would you hope to see from The Nationals over these final 70-some odd games of 2010?

Phil Wood: If anything, I want to see them be more consistent offensively. I’d like to see Desmond become a little more entrenched at shortstop. The whole issue of the errors he’s making are aggressive errors and eventually those will diminish, although they will never disappear entirely. And I would like to see Bernadina become more of a take charge player. He’s got some power, although only the fans on the road are actually allowed to see it (All five of his career home runs have not been at Nationals Park). Whether it’s the ballpark or exactly why he’s been unable to hit the ball out at Nats Park, I think he’s got quick hands. According to Rick Eckstein, everybody, he’s a pretty quick study. And despite that pickoff play at second base (against The Mets that ended the game on July 2nd), I think he’s a pretty good baserunner. I think he’s got a lot to offer. Instinctively, he’s a better player than Nyjer. He’s really another one of those guys that can be a long-term player for you. I can see Bernadina batting leadoff down the road.

Nats320: If you are the resident GM, and you have Willingham, Zimmerman and Dunn--and can re-sign Dunn--do you keep those three and build around them?

Phil Wood: Yes, I do. First of all, Josh Willingham has turned himself into a pretty good defensive player with a high on base percentage. There is just too much to recommend Josh Willingham on. I keep those three guys in the middle of my lineup for the next couple of seasons. Hopefully in the next couple of years, you are going to have a Michael Burgess (minor league outfielder) ready to play. And at second base, you hope Jeffrey Kobernus can progress through the Minor Leagues. All the scouts say he’s got all the tools you want, it’s just the fact of getting his act together. I think the idea that this club needs to rely heavily on free agency is not accurate. They will probably use free agency to fill certain holes.

For instance, the idea of going after a guy like Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers 1st Baseman). I look at a guy like Prince Fielder and I see a guy that is a step away from a major knee injury waiting to happen. He’s so heavy and, granted, he moves pretty well for a big man, but he’s enormous. I would have real concerns, particularly since they (his agents) want Mark Teixeira money for Fielder. How many clubs are going to be willing to pay that since The Yankees already have a first baseman? I just think they are shooting the works here on Prince Fielder. The idea of The Nationals going out and buying a premier free agent, or overpaying, I don’t find particularly appealing.

I was talking to a scout the other day who said if only people knew how much the Cubs allowed The Nationals to progress--by allowing Chicago to sign Alfonso Soriano to that huge deal. A deal like that would have crippled The Nationals for a couple of seasons. It would have set everything back and it’s hard to argue with that.

Nats320: Rizzo, coming up to the trade deadline, what do you think he is looking for and what do you think he can realistically do?

Phil Wood: Well that’s a good question. I am not really sure he’s looking for anything other than somebody offering him something really obscene. I think he wants to see what the market will bare on some of these guys. But in terms of looking for something specific, I don’t see him with an eye on any particular position. It’s more of a matter of who comes to him and offers him whatever. Again, realistically, I don’t think he sees this as a year where they are going to drag themselves back into the wild card race. I think Rizzo is too much of a realist there. See what’s out there, but he probably doesn’t have his eye on anything.

Nats320: Consistently you can read on MLB Trade Rumors, even ESPN, that anonymous scout or front office person from another club stating that Rizzo, like Jim Bowden before him, is asking too high of a return for Washington’s players. "Asking for the world" is used often.

Phil Wood: In terms of what the other clubs are going after, whether that be Dunn or Willingham, he’s going to ask for the world because of what these specific players mean to The Nationals right now--as opposed to what they can get in return that might not bare fruit for two or three years. It’s knowing what you’ve got. And it’s the great unknown on the other side. It’s one of those deals where if you traded Dunn and you got a return package of three prospects and the three never worked out, and Dunn goes someplace else and goes to post-season play while putting up good numbers. And Zimmerman’s numbers fall because Dunn is not batting behind him--I think the criticism for that would be much greater than for not doing anything.

Nats320: Do you see them moving Cristian Guzman (if he allows it under the 10 & 5 Rule) just to move him? Or, only if they get something in return?

Phil Wood: I can’t imagine Cristian Guzman is going to approve of a deal anywhere. He doesn’t have to. I don’t think he has any designs on going any place else between now and the end of the year. Adam Kennedy is a better possibility, but I don’t think Kennedy will bring a lot. I think Adam Kennedy is a better player than shown here, but I think the early plans to have him be the dominant second baseman sort of fell apart pretty early. Again, and I don’t care if he doesn’t walk much, Guzman puts the ball into play. He makes things happen. He’s very aggressive. He’s been a contributor all season long. Defensively, he’s not a great defensive player, but he never has been. There’s no shock there.

Nats320: Can you see him trading some of the depth he believes he has in pitching?

Phil Wood: That depends on who it was? Like Stammen? Yeah, I could see Stammen involved in a deal, sure.

Remember, there are significant trades and there are insignificant trades. And if you look at some of the deals that have been made over the years--some have been fairly insignificant--but have turned out all right. Trading Mike Stanton for Shairon Martis that turned out alright for a while. He might never pitch in the Big Leagues again, but he had a run there. If Rizzo wants to trade one of the superfluous guys that are not a part of the core--that’s not a very significant deal--and shouldn't be a problem.

With that final answer Mid-Season Thoughts From Phil Wood (Part Two) concluded. The next few weeks of Nationals Baseball should be interesting to watch just to see what MIGHT happen before the July 31st trading deadline. But right after that day passes, another important date arises. August 16th, the final day for any team, including Our Washington Nationals, to sign their top draft picks. The Bryce Harper negotiations will fully take over the conversation until the very moment the 2010 Number One Overall Draft Pick's signature is signed on a contract.

1 comment:

paul said...

With all respect to Phil Wood, whom I love, having a good manager whom the players respect is critically important. I don't think the Cardinals teams of the last 15 years would have won nearly as much without Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan.

Could Riggleman be the guy to lead the Nats to the top? Sure, if he resists overmanaging and tinkering and getting into his Gene Mauch-like overthinking and putting too much pressure on himself and the team. He also needs the respect of a multi-year contract and the ability to bring in his own coaches.

But Phil's main point, I believe, is that having an enlightened, committed front office (the owner and GM) is more important than anything in determining a club's success.