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.

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