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Alright, to be fair, the title of this post should probably read “Welcome to THE District 9”. That’s what we’re calling this year’s informal question and answer sessions here on Curly W Live, which we will run all year with current players, front office members, coaches, prospects and other interesting folks from around the game of baseball.
The name is obviously a play on the Academy Award nominated film from a few years back, but is also a nickname for Washington’s home club, the nine men who take the field at Nationals Park to represent the District each night. The feature itself is our spin on the traditional 10 questions that many organizations will ask in a Q&A format. Instead, we ask nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, and reach out to you to provide the 10th.
We will be asking for your submissions via our Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the year prior to these sessions, with the first of such coming up later this week. So if you don’t already like/follow us on those social media platforms, go check us out and keep your eyes open for your opportunity to ask your favorite baseball folks questions you’ve been dying to know the answer to.
Just so you know we’re serious, we’ll be starting off the year strong with… Gio Gonzalez! Get to know your new ace before Spring Training, as we’ll post Gio’s District 9 right here on Curly W Live later this week. So get creative and give it your best shot, then be sure to check back on Thursday to see if you’ve won!
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.
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.