December 2011

Racing Presidents Grace The Nutcracker Stage

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To celebrate the holidays, the Washington Nationals Racing Presidents made a special appearance in the Washington Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Warner Theater on Wednesday evening. For the second consecutive year, Abe, George, Teddy and Tom graced the stage to perform in Septime Webre’s Georgetown-inspired version of the holiday classic.

Enjoy some photos from the show, and check back soon for a video of their spectacular performance!

All photos courtesy of Theo Kossenas Photography

2011 Winter Meetings Q&A with GM Mike Rizzo

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You asked, and Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo is ready to answer. We gathered questions from Nationals fans far and wide for this exclusive fan Q&A with the man tasked with shaping your Washington Nationals.

From Facebook, Bryce J. wants to know: Higher priority, finding a dominant #2 to follow Strasburg in the rotation or a positional player to shore up the 3-4-5 while Harper learns the ropes?

Mike Rizzo: I think it’s imperative to find both. We feel we have in-house candidates for the number two starter behind Stras’. Jordan Zimmermann had a terrific year last year, really a breakthrough year for him. We expect bigger and better things – it will be his first full season off of Tommy John surgery – so we’re excited for big things from him. We’re always looking to improve the rotation. You can never have enough good, quality starting pitching in this division, so we’re always in the market for that.

A big bat would be something that would really jump-start our offense. We feel like we’re going to be stronger and better than we were last year with the current players that we have. We feel like a year of experience for our young, middle-of-the-field guys like Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond is going to do nothing but help them. We’re looking for another outstanding season from Michael Morse, a healthy season from Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, and a bounce-back season from Jayson Werth, so we feel like we’re going to be better in that regard. But you can never have too much offense, and good, young two-way players – offensively and defensively with athleticism – are always what we’re looking for.

On Twitter, @gonastynats asks: So what IS #RogerBernadina’s future w/ the #Nationals? Is he our CF next year, or what?

MR: Roger is a terrific talent, he’s got great skills. He’s a guy who can play defense at all three outfield positions, gives us some pop from the left side of the plate, can steal you a base when he has to steal a base, and he’s got great versatility. He’s going to be a big part of our ballclub and is going to compete for the CF job. In the worst-case scenario, he’s going to be a terrific fourth outfielder for us that who can fill in for extended periods of time. He brings great energy on the baseball field and a great attitude in the clubhouse.

Our email inbox was overflowing as well. Don B. has an interesting idea for the starting rotation: Since there are a number of promising young arms, could it be possible to have a six-man rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Wang, Peacock, Milone, and Lannan, perhaps keeping Zimmermann on a five-day schedule?  In addition to getting a longer look at the young prospects at the major league level, it would cut down on Stephen Strasburg’s starts and consequently, his innings.  If he is on an innings limit, this could allow him to pitch deeper into the season.  Is this a possibility?

MR: We’re not going to go to a six-man rotation. What we’ll do, we’ll keep the traditional five-man rotation and we’re going to protect Stras’ whenever we can and whenever possible. And we’re going to have two or three quality pitchers in the Minor Leagues that are ready to come up and ready to pitch extended and important innings in the Major Leagues. We’re going to extend our pitchers out, but be prudent about it knowing in the back of our minds that we’ve got really good quality pitchers to summon from the Minor Leagues when need be.

While Danny B. writes in about the outfielders: What outfielders are being targeted by the Nationals?

MR: We’ve overturned every stone. We’ve talked to every team where we think a center fielder fits for us. The trade market is very difficult for such a quality position; they are in high demand. We’ve kicked the tires on many center fielders via the trade route, we’ve looked internationally for some international talent and we’re looking at all aspects to try and improve our ballclub.

We feel that we do have an in-house candidate with Jayson Werth. He can always move and play center field, if we have to have him play there, which opens up a whole different pool of players for our corner outfield position.

Jim W. surely has his wish list, but wants to know what are the top priorities for the Nats this offseason: What are the top three needs in acquisitions going into the 2012 season?

MR: We certainly would like to upgrade our rotation with an arm that could fit in with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and give us a real potent top three guys in the rotation – to go along with Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan, Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone. We like to have great depth and versatility there. So that’s our number one priority.

Number two is probably to find an answer in the outfield, going the center field route, or moving Werth to center field and going the corner outfield route.

And lastly, to strengthen our bench. We need good veteran players off the bench to allow Davey Johnson to do what he does best, which is to strategize and control the game at the end with pinch hitters and really out-managing the guy in the other dugout.

Our loyal readers here on the Curly W Live blog also chimed in with some great questions in the comments, led by Donald L. He wants to know, what’s the word on Yoenis Cespedes?

MR: Cespedes is a big, powerful center fielder with a great skill set. We scouted him extensively in world competitions with our scouts. I personally went down to the Dominican to see a private workout with him. He’s an impressive young man with great physical skills. He’s got great strength and great speed, and shows flashes of being a five-tool player. With our knowledge of him and his skill set, he’s a guy that we’re monitoring seriously.

Meanwhile, Dan D. wonders if a familiar face from the past could fill a hole in the Nationals outfield plans. Could Josh Willingham fill in as RH bat, 5th OF and 1B? Great pop, good guy, fans like him.

MR: Josh is a terrific talent. He’s way over-qualified to be a fifth outfielder or a right-handed bat off the bench. This is a guy who came off last season with 29 homeruns and 98 RBI’s in a tough Oakland ballpark to hit in. He’s going to get an everyday job somewhere and he’s going to be a guy who fits in somebody’s outfield as a regular. He’s a great quality person, and a great human being, and a guy we really like around here.

That’s it for the Winter Meetings Q&A, thanks for all of the great questions! Check back throughout the offseason for the inside scoop on your Washington Nationals.

Winter Meetings Q&A with Mike Rizzo: Teaser!

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You asked, and Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo is ready to answer. We gathered questions from Nationals fans far and wide, and the first two answers are below. Check back Tuesday, Dec. 13 for the rest of this exclusive fan Q&A with the man tasked with shaping your Washington Nationals.

To kick it off, Vincent M. asked on Facebook: Brad Peacock is very good and many people don’t notice how good. Is he in the starting rotation plans?

Mike Rizzo: Brad Peacock, as he showed last year, was our Minor League Pitcher of the Year, came up to the Major Leagues and excelled. We think he’s a power pitcher with terrific stuff. He’s the type of guy that could be our next Jordan Zimmermann-type performer. We have big plans for him. What we have in this organization is we have great depth at the starting pitching position from big leagues through our system, which is really unheard of in the Major Leagues. We’re looking forward to seeing him compete in Spring Training and we’re going to leave camp with our best five starting pitchers.

Next, @fopack asked on Twitter: When will @BHarper3407 [Bryce Harper] be called to #bigs???

MR: Bryce is a unique talent. He’s got outstanding abilities and a great skill set. He’s going to be an impactful player when he gets to the Big Leagues. His development and his performance is going to dictate when he actually gets to the Big Leagues. There are no restraints on him, we’re not going to hold him back. If he’s legitimately ready and prepared for the Major Leagues, we won’t feel bad about bringing him to the Major Leagues. We’re going to bring the best 25 players north [when Spring Training in Viera, FL breaks] and try to win as many games as we can, and we need the best players we have to do so. If he’s one of the best 25 and he fits, and his development curve is right where we want it to be, then he’ll be in the Big Leagues.

For more of this exclusive Q&A, check back on Tuesday to see if your question is answered.

Day 2 from the 2011 Winter Meetings

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An update from the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas, from the desk of Mark D. Lerner, Nationals Principal Owner:

Day 2 is in the books …

* I have sat in on most of Mike Rizzo’s internal meetings and things continue to progress. Tuesday’s various chats, both on the free agent and trade fronts, were more concrete than Monday’s. Mike is exploring every avenue possible, but remember – it takes two to tango.

* One thing I know that Mike is NOT concerned about is leaving Dallas without consummating a deal. If a trade or signing happens here, well that is fantastic. But sometimes these meetings set the stage for something to happen next week, next month or even next year.

One of Mike’s challenges is that he is being asked more and more about our young talent. Some of that talent has already reached D.C., while some if it continues to develop in our farm system. Keep in mind how much our talent has matured over the past few years. So I think it is fair to say Mike’s call volume is higher than ever.

*Tuesday night marked our annual Minor League Affiliates Reception.  It is always fun to see our extended family from Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown, Auburn and Viera (GCL) and reaffirm to them just how much they are part of our maturation as a franchise.

Twenty-five years from now, Bryce Harper will remember Hagerstown. And he’ll remember his first post-season race as a pro, which took place this August in Harrisburg. Tommy Milone will be able to cite chapter and verse his 12-win campaign with Potomac in 2009. These smaller towns provide the backdrop for the game’s development, and the support and structure provided by the various front offices is not taken for granted, especially at Nationals Park. Thanks you Chiefs. Thank you Senators. Thank you P-Nats. Thank you Suns. Thank you Doubledays. Thank you GCL Nationals!

* One thing I have noticed is the collective glow emanating from our game. In my mind, it dates back to the last night of the regular season and carried on through one of the best World Series ever. Then it culminated in the signing of a new CBA just prior to Thanksgiving. It is a good time to be a baseball fan. More specifically, an even better time to be a Nationals fan! We cannot wait to begin making our own October memories in the years to come.

Curly W Live – Greetings from 2011 Winter Meetings

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An update from the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas, from the desk of Mark D. Lerner, Nationals Principal Owner:

Hello Nationals fans!

It’s that time again … the Winter Meetings have begun. This blog comes to you from the Hilton Anatole Hotel, located in the shadows of downtown Dallas. Well, if there were shadows, that is. Most of the Nationals contingent arrived in the Big D on Sunday afternoon. However, the bulk of the activity did not begin until Monday (well, except for the Marlins… our 18 matchups with Miami in 2012 sure will have a different feel, won’t they?).

Speaking of teams with new, state-of-the-art facilities, I headed over to Dallas Cowboys Stadium early this morning for a behind-the-scenes tour. I think “wow” is a good word to describe the experience, but since they do everything big in Texas, I’ll go with “WOW and WOW!” It really is quite a facility and the scoreboard is just awe-inspiring. Now I know why all the sideline shots during Cowboys games always feature players looking straight up.

In case you haven’t heard, we’re holding a Q&A with the Nationals Executive Contingent here in Dallas with questions from you, our loyal fans. We’ll get answers from a couple different corners of the organization, so if you haven’t already, ask your questions in the comments below, or by email, Twitter or Facebook. Check back Wednesday to see if your question was answered.

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When I returned to the meetings, we found out that Mike Rizzo is ranked 19th on the general manager’s seniority list. Yep, hard to believe, isn’t it? Note that the rankings include time spent with a GM’s current club. So, for instance, Mike is higher on the list than Kevin Towers of the D-Backs, even though Towers has been a GM for more than 15 years. It almost seems like Mike took over just yesterday, but then you look at our roster and our Minor League rosters and it is clear that he’s been in charge of our baseball operation for three full seasons. And he’s been quite busy. This just goes to show the commitment that Nationals ownership has to Mike’s vision and his plan to achieve it. That level of trust and stability shouldn’t be underestimated.

Which brings me to my final point for the day. Mike’s scouting and player development staff have done a great job of building an impressive stable of talent within out Minor League system. Some of that talent has already percolated to D.C. (Stephen Strasburg, Tommy Milone, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen … you know all the names). We are thrilled with the initial returns on our 2011 draft class and look forward to watching that next wave of Nationals as they rise through the ranks on their way to D.C.

While free agents and trade rumors will be floating all over the internet for the next few months as we approach Spring Training, just remember that we have already achieved our primary objective from when we gained control of the club in 2006; we wanted to have a steady pipeline of impactful talent spread throughout our Minor League system because we felt strongly about the fact that this is the best method to sustain success. Here’s looking forward to continued excitement throughout the busy offseason, leading into what we all expect will be an exhilarating 2012 campaign.

Until next time…

2012 Winter Meetings Q&A

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Welcome to Hot Stove season, Nationals fans!

With Winter Meetings taking place next week, baseball is back in the headlines as fans eagerly await news of who will be the latest players to don the Curly W. Here’s your chance to join in on the action and get some inside information straight from the Nationals Executive contingent in Dallas! You can submit your questions in the comments below, by email at CurlyW@nationals.com, or via Facebook and Twitter (include #NatsQnA with your question). Check back here on Wednesday, December 7 to see what the execs have to say!

For the latest news from Dallas and throughout the offseason, be sure to like the Nationals on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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