December 2010

Eyeing the Draft, Rick Eckstein’s Sacrifice, and More

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on in Orlando. Check back often for the latest updates.

More: Blog Entry #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

Good afternoon, Nats fans.

As we begin Day 2 of MLB’s Winter Meetings, I first want to clear up a misconception which we are experiencing first hand this week. Florida does not enjoy a year-round tropical climate. It’s unseasonably frigid down here this week, actually dipping to the low 30s overnight. Last night Mike Rizzo did a live interview on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight outdoor set, and it felt more like we were at Disney’s Blizzard Beach than the resort’s pool area.

One of the best parts about the Winter Meetings is the opportunity to spend time with Mike Rizzo’s baseball staff, analyzing where our organization stands and hearing what they think about available players on our radar. Mike has assembled some of baseball’s top talent evaluators on his staff. While talk at the Winter Meetings always seems to start with free agent signings and trades, being around the likes of Roy Clark, Kris Kline, Bill Singer, Kasey McKeon, Deric Ladnier, Davey Johnson, Jay Robertson, Bob Schaefer, Bob Boone and Phil Rizzo (Mike Rizzo’s dad, also a longtime baseball scout who serves on our staff) really gets me excited for next season’s First-Year Player Draft. All great baseball teams are established with a strong foundation that’s built through the draft and player development, and Mike Rizzo – who is considered one of baseball’s elite amateur talent evaluators in his own right – has an outstanding staff in place to continue to ensure successful drafts.

Next June, we will again have an outstanding opportunity to make an impact via the draft. We have 2 first-round picks – 6th and 23rd overall – and a sandwich pick between the first and 2nd rounds. The 23rd overall and sandwich picks were secured when Adam Dunn signed with the White Sox as a Type ‘A’ free agent. We did lose our 2nd round pick when we signed Jayson Werth, but we will still have 3 of the Draft’s top 40 picks and our folks are saying this year’s draft class is especially strong.    

On a non-baseball topic…As many of you know, I really enjoy visiting stadiums and arenas all over the country. This morning I had the opportunity to tour Amway Center, the brand new home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic. What a spectacular venue. It is the best NBA arena that I have seen. Congrats to the entire Magic organization for a job well done.

Also, our thoughts and prayers go out to a member of the Nationals family, hitting coach Rick Eckstein, who tomorrow will be donating a kidney to his older brother Ken. Rick is a selfless person who always puts his family and his work before himself. I have found him to be one of the classiest people I have met in the game of baseball, and we wish both Rick and Ken a speedy recovery. Read more about this story here

Enjoy your day, and stay tuned for more…

Quote Sheet: Jim Riggleman from Winter Meetings

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Curly W Live programming to bring you some insights from Manager Jim Riggleman on the signing of Jayson Werth and the state of the rest of the roster. Keep checking back for more musings from Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner throughout the week.

More: Blog Entry #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Actually when I got here, I knew that we had made this trade.  Mike and I talked a lot about players like Jayson and others, and you know, I knew who Mike had his sights on.  You know, we had expressed it thoughts on a lot of players, but you know, it was very much under the radar, kept quiet, and so I basically found out when I got here.


            Q.  How does it feel for the first time in your career to have money to spend on players?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t know if it’s the first time.  I felt that I’ve been fortunate to manage in places and owners have always been generous in trying to put the best players we can out there.

            Sometimes your ownership group is trying to get players, and the players don’t take the money.  You know, you offer good money and they find something else somewhere.  But you know, in this case, I think it’s very encouraging, not only with Jayson, but with Bryce Harper and the commitment to Ryan Zimmerman a few years ago; I think that there’s a history here of trying to go out through the ballclub, whether it’s through trades, free agents, whatever, but there’s a great commitment to player development.

            I think this is a great sign for the organization and our fans that the ballclub is serious about having a better future for this organization.


            Q.  You talk about messages, in terms of the money that you’re paying Jayson says that you believe we can be a middle of the lineup, superstar‑caliber player.  In Philadelphia, he had other bats around him.  Do you feel he can be that kind of guy?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t think that ‑‑ we are not really approaching it as, okay, you have to be the centerpiece of this organization.  You know, we just feel like he’s a very good player that has done some great things in Philadelphia.

            And you’re right, he’s around a lot of good players, but we can put players around him.  We still have Ryan Zimmerman there and we have Willingham there and we have a first baseman that will drive in runs one way or another.  He’s not going to feel that he’s alone there in the lineup.

            His athleticism and his talent, he’s surrounded by other good athletes, and you know, we just want to play baseball.  We are not looking for him to come in redefine his numbers.  If he does what he’s done in the past, that’s a great thing and if he does a little more, a little less, it’s still going to be a great thing, because he’s really done some great things last few years.


            Q.  Have you had a chance to talk to him at all?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I have not talked to him yet, no.


            Q.  Assuming you get a first baseman, your outfield looks a little crowded; do you feel like there are enough at‑bats for everyone there and do you feel that you have an excess there and maybe need to make a move to open spots for other guys?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You know, I think we want to have about five guys there, and if you add up what we have got there now, that’s about what we have.  Will something else happen?  Yeah, it might happen.  There might be another acquisition, might be a trade that clears it up.  We really are early into not just the Winter Meetings, but we are still early into the off‑season.  A lot of things can still happen.  I’m not sure how it will shake out exactly.  But you know, we just try to divvy up the at‑bats as best we can and keep guys as productive as we can.


Q.  Would you feel comfortable with the infield now, or do you feel like you need another utility‑type guy for insurance or just to have another body?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think maybe in a perfect world, maybe is that player will be able to do a little bit of both, move around.  In the National League, it’s nice to have guys who can go in the infield and outfield and have a guy or two like that.  So that might be something to look at.

            No, I’m very happy with Gonzalez, Espinosa, Desmond right now. 


            Q.  Is your first impulse, where to bat Jayson; the Phillies were reluctant to bat him in the 3‑hole, he batted 5 and sometimes in the 2‑hole.  What are your thoughts of him and Zimmerman and how you might do that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think it depends on who plays first base and where that person hits and what kind of protection that person can give for either Ryan or Jayson.

            My recollection is there were times where Howard and Utley were both hurt at the same time and Jayson did fill that spot in the middle pretty good at third or fourth and productive.  If that is where he is at, that will be fine.

            I think what happens, if Willingham is out there, he’s good protection for Ryan.  If it’s a left‑hand hitting first baseman, it might be protection there in that way.


            Q.  How important is it to you to acquire the kind of bench guys, that can play infield, outfield, that have more versatility from multiple guys to give you options late in the game, and was that a problem last year?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, it really wasn’t a problem.  I don’t ‑‑ again, I think we might have put Gonzalez out there a couple of innings one time, at least we talked about it.

            I think Gonzalez could do that.  But you know, Willy could do that last year, he could go in the infield or outfield last year.  It just so happens we had so many infielders, we didn’t use him in the infield very much.

            It’s comforting to know, as the game plays out, and you have to do certain things in the game, the way the lineups turn over, that you have somebody that can fill a lot of different roles.

            It’s nice to know that Jayson is a very comparable center fielder as well as right fielder.  We are getting more athletic, is what it amounts to.  We are getting a little more versatile, a little more athletic.


            Q.  Is Nyjer your center fielder or is it a competition between him and Roger going into the spring?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think Nyjer is our center fielder.  I think Bernie played his best baseball defensively in left, did okay in right, did fine in center but I thought he really excelled in left field.

            You know, Josh is out there, so Bernie is going to be fighting for at‑bats.

           Q.  You mentioned left‑handed hitting first baseman provides protection; how much does Pena fit that bill?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  We are like a lot of teams.  We like Carlos Pena.  We really liked Adam Dunn.  Adam Dunn did a great job for us and we appreciate everything he did.  We made what we feel is a good offer to Adam and Adam and his agent did a great job; they got a better deal.  But that left‑handed bat there was nice to have, and you know, we feel like Carlos is a guy who can do that.  There’s three or four other names, you know, that can do it. 

            Whatever comes up, I’m sure it’s going to be a good option.


            Q.  A lot of people were surprised that Jayson got as much money as he did.  What’s your reaction to that?  Were you in on the dollars?  Did you have any idea?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, I’m not in on that.  But the thing is, the money, you know, when you’re managing, the players play.  The money doesn’t play.  You put a ballplayer out there.  You don’t put the money out there.

            You know, one of our brightest spots on our team last year was a minimum‑salary guy in Ian Desmond.  We had great things out of our higher‑paid players, also.

            You know, when you’re managing the players, you just feel fortunate to have them and you don’t look at how much money they make and judge it.  You just evaluate the talent that you have, and sometimes the guys that don’t make much money play good and sometimes the guys that make a lot of money have a down year.

            You just try to make the best acquisitions that you can and have the best player development that you can have feeding your big league club and hopefully it all comes to fruition.


            Q.  Did you have a chance to watch Bryce Harper in the Fall League?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I only saw him in the instructional league, very impressive.  Bryce, he’s met every challenge.  He met the challenge of going into college early; the challenge of playing in the instructional league and in the Fall League as a young guy.  He’s met every challenge tremendously.  He’s fit in well with his teammates.  He’s done everything that could be asked of him, and you know, he’s just on a time frame of, go play baseball and sooner or later, he’s going to be in the big leagues.


            Q.  In Spring Training, what is sort of the plan, just in terms of ‑‑ does he get a locker in the big league clubhouse or is he a Minor League guy?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You kind of forget.  He’s on the 40‑man roster, so he’s in the big league ‑‑ in that case, he’ll be there.

            He’ll get a lot of attention, I’m sure, just as Stephen Strasburg did last year.  But he’ll be in big league camp and get some at‑bats.  If the at‑bats look like they are starting to get too infrequent, we will get him down to Minor League camp where he’s pitching every day.


            Q.  But he’ll get at‑bats in the big league exhibitions?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Yeah, we’ll get him some at‑bats.


            Q.  Can you talk about Stephen, how is he progressing?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You know, my understanding is he’s doing very well, but the process is what it is.  It’s a 12‑ to 18‑month process, and each goal that he tries to reach with his rehab, he’s meeting those goals.  We anticipate it’s going to be 12 to 18 months just like originally said.

            Q.  If you guys are not able to get that big name pitcher that might still be out there, how comfortable are you with what you have in your rotation at the moment?  Is it set in stone already, are there spots up for grabs or how would you look at that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Our rotation, there’s 5‑ to seven starters there right now that Mike wanted to add somebody to it.  But that’s very difficult to do.  And Mike’s made great efforts to do it.  As I said, there’s been one or two guys who were offered nice contracts that they got something somewhere else and stayed where they were at originally or whatever.

            So it’s been difficult to add a quality starter.  So as Mike continues to look for that and that opportunity to add there, we are really focusing on some bullpen stuff.  We feel like our bullpen did a good job last year but maybe we can strengthen our strength.


            Q.  What would that look like, adding another guy who could fill a specific role or a closer?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t think we would add a closer.  I think as Mike has indicated, ideally we would get somebody who maybe has had some experience in the ninth inning but not necessarily a classic closer.  Those guys are just not going to show up.

            So I think with Clifford and Storen and Burnett, we have got guys there that are not intimidated by the ninth inning, but if we can add another guy or two, that is also comfortable pitching in the 7th; that on a given day, needs to pick up the slack and go into the ninth for us, and again, he’s not ‑‑ the ninth inning isn’t too big of a situation for him to handle.


            Q.  Do you see deciding on one of those guys as your closer or is it going to be maybe just all three of them will pitch the ninth inning depending on circumstance?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  In a perfect world, you have a guy who does it, but our guy who we kind of look to do that down the road is Storen and that being the case, we want to allow him to gravitate towards that.

            If it happens sooner than later, it’s great, but if he gets some help doing it in the meantime, again, I’ll point to a couple of the best closers, really, didn’t pitch the ninth inning until they were about 25, 26 years old; Mariano Rivera and a few others.  They kind of found their way in the seventh and eighth inning for a couple of years and when Wetteland moved on, Mariano took it over and others have done the same thing.

            I think that that has proven to be a real good way for a guy to acclimate himself to that ninth inning is to get a little history behind him in the seventh and eighth, and Drew has got a little of that.  He’s pitched some in the ninth.  But again, we are not going to deny him if he’s clearly that option there, but we are not going to force it to happen, either.


            Q.  This off‑season, we have seen four managers hired, that have been with teams before.  You’ve been through that experience, I wanted to ask you, what is it like to try to get that second, maybe third job, what the process is like?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Well, you know, these jobs are precious.  It’s hard to get a Major League managing job.  Just as Terry Collins spoke about that last week.  I completely understand what he’s saying.  These jobs, Major League coaching jobs, these are precious positions.  You work your whole life in baseball once you’re not a player to get into a position to coach and/or manage.

            So you know, quite often what happens is you get a job because the ballclub is struggling.  The Giants job ain’t going to be open, you know what I mean; Bruce Bochy has got that.  There are many capable people who have gotten the opportunity to manage these clubs, and many capable people who have not gotten the opportunity to manage these clubs.  When you get the opportunity, you are fortunate to get it.  You don’t really reflect on, you know, whether you were lucky or whatever.  You just appreciate the opportunity.


            Q.  As far as getting that second or third opportunity, what was the process like?  Was it a matter of staying in touch with general managers?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, I never stayed in touch with any general managers.  I just stayed in the game.  I went from ’99 to really middle of ’08, and never spoke to any general managers.  I just was working in the game and had various positions in the game and a position to manage arose, and I took it.

            It’s not a job you apply for.  These things evolve.  You don’t ‑‑ people know that ‑‑ we all know each other in the game.  Everybody knows what everybody wants to do.  But when I was coaching, I really appreciated the opportunity to coach.  Again, those are precious positions, and so I felt very fortunate to be coaching.  When I got the opportunity to manage, I took it.


            Q.  If Adam wasn’t signed and went to Chicago, there were stories written that Zimm was upset; has Mike talked to him since?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I’ve talked to him and we have texted a lot here lately.

            My message to Zimm was before Adam left, I hope we get Adam left, but if we don’t, Mike is going to have something there.  So when this has happened, with Jayson being there, it’s got be to comforting for Zimm to know that we are not tossing in the towel.  But there are going to be other examples between now and Opening Day that Zimm will be encouraged by.


            Q.  How challenging is it with turnover one year to the next in terms of free agency and trades in terms of how to handle that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think we’ll have four or five guys from our bullpen last year that I have a lot of history with and I know maybe what the limits are that they can go to.  When you get new guys there is an adjustment period that you can go through and hopefully figure that out through conversations and through Spring Training and watching them work and how they respond on a second day and how they respond on three out of four days work or something.

            Spring Training is a pretty long process in today’s world.  By Opening Day, you have a pretty good feel for what a guy can handle.

            Q.  What improvements would you like to see in Nyjer?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think that, basically, the thing that we want Nyjer to do is get on base, a little higher rate, and to be there to be knocked in.

            The game is full of statistics, and there’s so many numbers out there.  But when it comes to offense, you’re either knocking them in or you’re scoring.  The rest of it is a little bit of eyewash.

            We want Nyjer to score and to score, he’s got to be on base.  We know he can do it.  He’s shown he can do it.  We just hope that he’s getting on base at a little higher clip, and that’s going to mean a little improvement against left‑handed pitching basically.

More Intrigue Coming to Battle of the Beltways

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on in Orlando. Check back often for the latest updates.

More: Blog Entry #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

Good evening. It was another beautiful day in Orlando. Today is the official first day of MLB’s Winter Meetings, although we certainly got the ball rolling yesterday with the signing of Jayson Werth.

There is a definite buzz around the Dolphin Hotel, the MLB headquarters for the Winter Meetings. This time of day, the lobby is crawling with media, and each of the 30 teams are huddled, evaluating their clubs and how they can improve them.

Mike Rizzo and the baseball staff have been meeting all day, discussing free-agent players and trade options. In all, we have more than 30 of our top baseball operations staffers. Over the course of the next few days, Mike will meet with several other clubs, as well as agents, to get a better feel for which players on our radar are attainable.

A few quick notes:

* The Nationals would like to congratulate longtime baseball executive Pat Gillick on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pat is a brilliant baseball man and a true ambassador for the game.

* It was nice to see the Orioles signing of Mark Reynolds. I’m sure Ryan Zimmerman will welcome having his college teammate right up the road, and Virginia Cavalier fans will now have 2 of their most notable baseball alums in the region. Should add another level of intrigue for our annual Battle of the Beltways series.

* Beautiful television production sets for MLB Network and ESPN around the lobby. This event really gets a ton of coverage. At glance, you can see Harold Reynolds, Peter Gammons and many others.

That’s all for now. Keep checking back, and I’ll do my best to keep everybody updated on the happenings from Disney World.

Welcome to Curly W Live from the Winter Meetings

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on in Orlando. Check back often for the latest updates.

More: Blog Entry #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

Werth.jpgGreetings from sunny and warm(er) Orlando.

And we really did hit the ground running, but more on that in a sec …

So everyone is aware, keep your refresh button handy, because we are going to be fueling your Hot Stove fire over the next three days. I will be blogging periodically from MLB’s Winter Meetings at the Dolphin Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort. So, we hope you can join us and have some fun …

Why do this, you ask? MLB’s Winter Meetings are an exciting time for baseball fans worldwide, and I wanted to offer our readers a glimpse of what happens down here. Some postings will be more serious than others, but I want to keep this fun and informative. I know before I got into the game in 2006, I always wondered how “this” all went down. I am now in my fifth Winter Meetings and there is a palpable anticipation every year. This year is no different.

So, let’s talk about Sunday’s proceedings …

As you likely know, we agreed to terms with RF Jayson Werth yesterday on a seven-year contract. This really shocked the baseball universe and there was not a writer or baseball dignitary in the lobby that did not take notice. We made an impression and we nabbed a darn good ballplayer too.

A few thoughts on adding Jayson Werth …

*We are thrilled to add Jayson to the Nationals family. He is truly a fantastic two-way player, a bright young man … and he is a winner!

*As Mike Rizzo alluded to in his press gathering, the Werth signing signals that the Nationals have evolved from Phase One to Phase Two of our operation. As we’ve always said, Phase One is the building stage and is focused on scouting and player development. Remember, this organization was largely void of any minor-league talent upon relocating to DC. Phase One is actually an on-going phase, but we are confident enough about where we stand in our system to move on. That is what set the stage for our agreement with Jayson. We will continue to explore any smart moves that complement our player development system.

*Mike’s core belief is that the best way to build a consistent winner is through pitching, defense and athleticism. That is Mike’s goal every day and I like what he has accomplished.

That’s it for now. I’ll be in touch soon.


Nationals Wish Adam Dunn the Best


Adam Dunn stood in the on-deck circle, just waiting for his turn to win the game on July 31. The Nats were trailing the Phillies 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth with one out, runners on first and second and Ryan Zimmerman at the plate. Dunn never got the chance. Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run.

“Dunn said he’s upset every time when that happens in front of him,” Zimmerman said after the game. “Kind of upset. I don’t know–I don’t know how to take that.”

Of course, Dunn was joking but that is Mr. Dunn to a T – a comedian who is never short on wises cracks and has the ability to win the game at any moment with his bat. That’s why White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams signed Dunn to a four-year, $56 M deal. Williams finally got the man he failed to land at the trade deadline in July. The Nationals will get the White Sox first round pick–23 overall–and a sandwich pick between the first and second round in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as compensation for Dunn. 

There is no doubt Adam Dunn will be missed at Nationals Park, a sentiment summed up by Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo in the wake of Dunn signing a multi-year contract with the White Sox:

 “The Washington Nationals wish Adam Dunn and his family the best of luck and good will in Chicago.  Adam contributed much to the Nationals and to the Washington, D.C. community.  He will be missed, but will remain an important figure in the early history of this franchise and will always be a part of the Nationals baseball family.”

He was beloved by teammates and fans alike with his country boy mentality and Kenny Powers personality. He is one of the few players in the League that legitimately has a chance to hit a home run every time he steps to the plate. He has 282 home runs since 2004–second to Albert Pujols–and he is the only player in the Majors to hit 38 or more home runs during the last seven seasons.

The bubble blowing Dunn takes his bat to the American League with the possibility of being a full-time DH for the first time too, neither of which were appealing to him a few months ago. But things change and this was an offer he couldn’t turn down.

The Nationals top priority entering the 2009 season was to add a power bat to the heart of the lineup. They pursued highly coveted All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira but their valiant attempt fell short when he signed with the New York Yankees for less money and fewer years. Enter Adam Dunn. Two years, and 76 home runs later, Dunn is gone. The hole has reopened and the priority of signing a slugger has returned.


Dunn was the first of the free-agent dominos to fall and with the GM meetings starting on Monday, the baseball landscape and Nationals roster will inevitably change even more. The Nats are expecting additions, not subtractions this time around though.