Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nats320 Conversation With Craig Heist

Craig Heist may work more sporting events and press conferences than anybody in the media today--certainly in Washington, DC. Seemingly, he works every single day for WTOP and Bonneville Communications covering Our Washington Nationals, The Baltimore Orioles, The Washington Wizards, The Washington Capitals, The Washington Redskins, DC United, University Of Maryland, Baltimore Ravens--the list goes on and on. I am sure there are more venues I am not aware of. Probably the only person that covers DC Major League Baseball & Baltimore Major League Baseball Full-Time. If Craig is not seen at Nationals Park this summer, you can bet he's over at Camden Yards. This week finds Heist in St.Louis covering both Ryan Zimmerman of Our Washington Nationals and Adam Jones of The Baltimore Orioles in The MLB All-Star Game.

Knowing Washington has struggled all season. Knowing Our Manager Manny Acta was just fired. And wanting to get an inside opinion of what's really going on with Our Washington Nationals--Craig Heist agreed to an indepth conversation about DC Baseball right here on Nats320. We covered most every topic--chatting for a good 40 minutes.

This will be the first of two parts. The conclusion to post up tomorrow. With that, here with go with the Nats320 Conversation With Craig Heist from WTOP Radio.

Let’s start with the big news. Are you surprised Manny Acta was fired? (SBF)

“No, not at all. But, in my way of looking at all this, I don’t know who they can get, even if it’s Jim Riggleman that can change anything that is going on right now. The hand has already been dealt. It is what it is. Now having said that, Ryan Zimmerman—without mentioning names (at The All Star Game Media Availability in St. Louis)—said The Nationals have done a pretty good job trying to change the culture around here. Chemistry is a big part of this sport. Now, he wasn’t saying The Nationals had a bad clubhouse, but there were certain things about it that weren’t right. And that’s important to note.”

“Overall, this decision gives everybody the chance to digest it. Take a couple of days off and come back on Thursday (July 16th) and say to themselves—‘OK, this is new. Let’s see what happens.' But, I just don’t know if Riggleman is going to be that much different than Manny.”

Starting in Spring Training did you or anyone covering this team realize it was going to struggle so badly? (SBF)

“Coming out, I would say absolutely not. Did anyone expect them to win a pennant? Or vie for a division title? No, but at the same time, I saw enough in Spring Training to know they were going to be a competitive baseball team and it just hasn’t happened. Defensively, they are awful. They can’t hit with runners in scoring position. Situationally, they are terrible. If you had told me they were going to be this bad—I would have said No Way!!”

Is this anyone’s fault? (SBF)

“I think that is the problem. Everybody is trying to find out who to blame here. I think its more the players really need to look themselves in the mirror and find out what it is about themselves that is making them play this way. It’s amazing to me. We all know why they got Adam Dunn. He’s a 40 Homer, 100 RBI Guy. And Manny often talked about how you have to take what you get in the field. Well, in leftfield he’s not very good. And if something would happen where they trade Nick Johnson, then you are looking at him playing first base a whole bunch the rest of the year. (Chuckling) And I don’t want to particularly see that!”

“But, that being said, Dunn is exactly what they got him for--his offense. I think his presence in the lineup was one of the reasons Ryan (Zimmerman) had the first half he had. He’s slacked off a little, obviously, no one expected him to hit .380 all year long. But I think having Dunn in that lineup was one of the reasons you saw the 30-Game Hitting Streak.”

Do you think this team needs a player to take charge and say this is my team and follow my lead? (SBF)

“Well, if they are and they call Ryan Zimmerman “The Face Of The Franchise”, Ryan has not shown to be that type of player until really today (At the All-Star Game). If they are looking for someone to kick someone else in the butt, or call someone out in the clubhouse, I don’t think that guy, so far, has been on this team. One who can do it in a constructive way where it’s going to get the attention of the people who you need to get the attention of.”

“But to his credit, Zimmerman did say at The All-Star Game (Media Availability) that this firing could be a wakeup call to a lot of people.”

“Now somebody had asked Manny that exact question the other day. And Manny responded the effort is there. For the most part, I think he was right. I just think collectively, they have just not jelled as a team. They are all Major League Players, but there is certainly youth involved here at times.”

“There are some other guys like Cristian Guzman. When Guzman makes an error, nine times out of ten, it’s a lazy error. And nine times out of ten it’s a throwing error because of his laziness. That doesn’t mean to me that Guzzie is a bad shortstop. It just means that every now and then he losses his focus. I don’t know if that is the same with Ryan’s (Zimmerman) throwing errors, but I see enough of Ryan Zimmerman in the field and the way he goes about his business (preparing) to know that nine times out of 10 when he is making a throwing error, it’s because he is trying--as Cal Ripken, Sr. used to say: Don’t make half a great play! Make the whole play!’--And I think that’s exactly what happens with him. He’s on the backend of trying to make a great play and sometimes he doesn’t make the right throw.”

Is that lack of focus coming from consistent losing? (SBF)

“In Zimm’s case, I don’t think so. In Guzzie’s case, I would say yeah. Sometimes it’s a lack of focus. Understand, there are two different types of players. Everybody has their own style. And Guzzie’s style is to be a little bit cool—that type of thing. You see that when he sometimes backhands balls (in the field instead of getting in front of the hit ball) and I think that sometimes creates a little bit of the laziness. What I like to call a Lazy Error”.

What do you think of Mike Rizzo taking control and seemingly clearing house of most of the Bowden Era Folks? (SBF)

“Well, I wish it would happen. I think there has been enough time go by now. And I know that Stan Kasten went to Florida when they were (playing) Tampa for the inter-league series. And there was talk from a lot of people that he was talking to Gary Hunsicker (Tampa Bay Rays Senior VP—and Former GM of The Houston Astros) about the job. I don’t know how true that was, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.”

“But here you have a guy (Rizzo) who was very instrumental in building up The Arizona Diamondbacks, very instrumental in the last two drafts for Washington. I would like to see him get a shot running this club and see what he does with it.”

Do you sense that The Nationals signing Stephen Strasburg and Rizzo making some well thought out trades over the next few weeks are important to Rizzo staying on the job? (SBF)

“I think it’s important for the organization to try to improve themselves over the next month by the trade deadline (non-waiver July 31st), no matter how they do that. I think there are some people on this team that could have some value. Certainly, there would be teams interested in Guzman. There would be teams interested in Nick Johnson. I don’t think you are going to find any takers for Austin Kearns because he’s had a terrible year, plus you are looking at $8 Million in salary. In fact, I am kind of surprised in some ways that they (Nationals Management) haven’t just flat out released him at this point.”

You read all the time; they need to trade Johnson for this. Or Dunn for that, or maybe even Josh Willingham because he is a hot bat, but what can Washington really expect to get back? (SBF)

“Well, that is the big question. Syd Thrift (long time Major League GM & Front Office Executive for The Pittsburgh Pirates & Baltimore Orioles among other teams) used to say, no matter what you thought of Syd Thrift as a GM, but Syd used to say ‘some of the best trades you ever make are the ones you don’t make’. And to me, with The Nationals, its got to be a situation where Mike Rizzo and Stan Kasten are going to believe that whatever they trade away, they better get somebody back in return that will help this club and is in the best interests of the club—not just presently—but in the future. Now, how many of those guys are out there? It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”

“The landscape of this is going to change so much between now, when we are talking at The All-Star Break and the time the 31st comes up.”

A few weeks back, I was talking with Phil Wood (MASN Analyst) about all these young pitchers The Nationals believe they have value in this very day. We pondered whether The Nationals should consider unloading some of them, thereby sweetening deals—so they can receive more quality everyday players needed in their system? (SBF)

“That certainly a possibility. The crutch of what they have in their Minor League System is certainly in their pitching and not position player wise. So, again from that standpoint, it boils down to what Rizzo wants to do in terms of what he feels he can afford to lose out of the system—in terms of pitching. Are they dead set with what they have? Their thought process has always been with this young pitching—if you can have two or three stick into the rotation—then you have done yourself a pretty good job.”

“And at this point, you are looking at John Lannan who has been here a little more than a year now. But certainly (Jordan) Zimmermann fits that mold. And I think that if Shairon Martis gets his act together, finds his command again, he can come up here and be a big part of this in the second half as well.”

Despite so much that has gone wrong this season, what has gone right? (SBF)

“Tough question to answer (chuckling). If you look at the record, it’s the worst in baseball at 26 & 61 now. I think what has gone right for them has been—off of a negative. And what I mean by that was when they came out of spring training—Lastings Milledge was going to be the leadoff hitter and play centerfield. Well, he wasn’t a very good centerfielder. And I said from day one—and you can ask Bill Ladson (nationals.com reporter) this. I looked him dead in the eye and said: ‘Bill, this is never going to work out.’ And part of the reason I knew it was never going to work out was because of the way Lastings was talking to us in Spring Training. ‘I am an aggressive guy, teams don’t want to walk me.’ Well, I am sorry. Right off the bat, part of your job as a leadoff hitter is to take pitches, see pitches and get on base anyway you can. So, I knew that wasn’t going to work. And as it turned out, he played seven games and was gone. And personally, I think you have seen the last of Lastings Milledge. So, going back to the original premise—I think that is a positive in the right direction off a negative in terms of where this team wants to go with its outfield. It has nothing to do with Lastings as a person, or anything like that. I am talking strictly from a talent standpoint.”

I see Nyjer Morgan being a pretty good catalyst at the top of the order. In a short period of time, he has completely changed the dynamic of this team. (SBF)

“There is no question there. I have talked to some people, some scouts and some other folks in the game over the past two weeks—and this trade to me (Morgan, Sean Burnett for Milledge & Joel Hanrahan) was a steal. This is another reason why I say—even though it’s just a small trade in this regard—Rizzo needs the shot to prove himself as no longer the “Interim” GM or “Acting” GM, he needs to be The GM of this club. I think they (The Nationals) robbed The Pirates blind on that deal.”

Where do you think Elijah Dukes stands right now? (SBF)

“He’s hitting the ball. He’s only played in seven or eight games down in The Minor Leagues. He’s hitting in the .300’s. Again, but for different reasons than Lastings, I would not be surprised—and I can’t say this for sure, but in my own mind—if we have not seen the last of him as well in this organization. I just think Mike Rizzo wants to make a culture change.”

That sort of pains me because he’s such a good talent. I am certainly not in the clubhouse, but from reading things here and there, bits & pieces, you collect an unease about him—even when he hasn’t been in any trouble publicly since really landing here in DC. (SBF)

“Whether that is the case or not, I don’t know. I don’t go around to individual players and ask them ‘Hey, what’s Elijah like?’ And since he’s been here, yeah—there was that late thing—but overall, with all of the baggage he had coming in here, when Jim Bowden brought him in here—in terms of keeping his nose clean and doing what they wanted him to do—he did that, I think. But from that standpoint, I think we are not in the clubhouse, like you said all the time. We, (the mainstream reporters) only get to be in there before the game, or during the sessions when they are open. And after the game for post game. The Nationals have handled him with kid gloves. If you want to talk to Elijah, someone has to be standing from the PR Department with you.”

“So, it was very hard to get a grasp of what the guy was really like. Obviously, some of the times we talked to him he could be very defensive—a bad play here or there. And I can understand that coming from Elijah’s direction because of all of the negative publicity while he is trying to get his life all turned around. Yet, whenever anything goes wrong, something comes up, he’s going to get asked out it. And he needs to respond. It’s just the nature of the beast (and he needs to adjust).”

With that answer, Part One Of Nats320's Conversation With Craig Heist concludes. Tomorrow, in the finale, Craig will continue to chat about what he feels Our Washington Nationals should do heading toward the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline. We compare The Baltimore Orioles rebuilding efforts to that of Washington. More reasons why Assistant GM Mike Rizzo should lose the "interim" title. And Craig will finish off talking about what he expects out of Our Washington Nationals over the last half of 2009.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Another great interview.
Very candid and insightful.
It has been painful to see some of our more physically talented acquisitions not pan out because of their mental approach.
All part of the growing process, but painful nonetheless.
I look forward to part two.