Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rizzo On LaRoche, Being Patient & Intelligent

After yesterday's Introductory Press Conference With Adam LaRoche, Nats320 chatted with Our Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo about the latest addition to his roster, as well as, attempting to improve the ball club in other areas this off-season. Here is that conversation with Mike Rizzo.

Nats320: We wanted to ask if you feel LaRoche improves everyone’s defense in the infield?

Mike Rizzo: With any elite defensive 1st baseman, I believe it improves all aspects of defense. His range at 1st base, his hands at 1st base, the confidence the other players have in getting rid of a ball and getting it in the vicinity (of 1st base) and knowing that it is going to be caught, picked and that type of thing is important. So there is a confidence factor in that and there is an actual physical factor where he is going to get the balls that a lot of 1st basemen don’t get to. He’s going to get a lot of throws that a lot of 1st basemen don’t get to. And to be honest with you, I like having a left-handed throwing 1st baseman. It’s just something that I’ve always liked.

Nats320: Why?

Rizzo: I think they turn more double plays. It’s an easier double play to turn when you are holding the runner on and you get a ground ball. It’s a much easier throw to second base and for you to get back to 1st. A right-handed 1st baseman either has to pivot one way or the other, make a full turn, or do the jump pivot. That’s difficult to do and that makes it difficult to turn double plays 3-6-3 or 3-6-1. I just believe having a left-handed thrower there improves those odds.

Nats320: How about offensively? This winter, a lot of time passed before you were able to sign LaRoche. How important was it to have a lefty batter back in the middle of your lineup?

Rizzo: I call it being patient. We were patient to get the right guy to play 1st base for us. We could have gotten a lot of guys to play 1st base for us. We wanted this particular guy. We were patient in going after him. We were diligent in our attention for him and got him at the end of the day. I thought it was important to balance the lineup offensively with a left-handed bat. I didn’t think it was vital because good hitters hit lefties and righties. And that’s how I felt about several of the 1st basemen out there. But this guy (LaRoche) gives us the right age, hits from the correct side we wanted, had the skill-set that I really admire and liked. He’s an athletic guy that can run and go 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home on the right kind of base hits. And as we have been preaching, speed athleticism and defense goes hand-in-hand to a better pitching staff and that’s what we are trying to get.

Nats320: How gratifying was it for you to hear LaRoche say that Adam Dunn and Matt Capps and other players had recommended Washington?

Rizzo: I thought it was great! We loved all those players that you just mentioned. I think that is the first step into changing the reputation of the franchise around. When you have big-time Major League players saying good things about you and, more or less, recruiting players to come here--maybe without even knowing it--I think that says a lot about where we are going and the current condition of where we are at.

Nats320: It’s the chicken and egg thing. Do you have to win first, or find the players?

Rizzo: Yeah, (chuckling). It’s a good question. It’s tough. It’s tough. But as Adam (LaRoche) said, there is no one that wants to win more than I do. There is no one working harder than our front office in trying to put together a winning ball club. You have to do it intelligently. It’s frustrating at times not to go for the quick fix--that type of thing. But as we have seen with the building up of our minor league system; where we are at with our Major League Franchise; what players are saying about us; and what the industry thinks of us--we are certainly going in the right direction and we are not nearly where we want to be at.

Nats320: Speaking then on intelligence as you just said. Is that why it is important to trade away Josh Willingham and get two younger players in return?

Rizzo: You have to make long-term decisions. Josh was a terrific player and person for us. We just felt it was time to move him, not so much because of Josh Willingham, but because of what we had there to replace him with. We feel we can replace Josh’s offensive production with a platoon system in left field (Roger Bernadina, Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel) and get much better defensively. And to tack on to that, you are going to get young players (in Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown) who are going to help our Major League Club, if not immediately, but in the very short term.

Nats320: You feel Washington is becoming a destination stop for players?

Rizzo: This is a great city, with a great fan base. And I can’t wait to give this fan base a taste of winning baseball because they are certainly deserving of it. And from what I have seen, the fans around here are ravenous. They love the Nats and they are going to show up and be a terrific fan base for us.

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