Results tagged ‘ Mike Rizzo ’

Weekly Review: The Birds and the Beards

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Monday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Tuesday, marking the first official baseball activity for the Washington franchise in exactly four months. All the usual suspects arrived, and once Rafael Soriano resolved his final visa issues, every player under contract had reported.

Players began their annual NatsHD filming, with Ross Detwiler and Tyler Clippard taking center stage to start things off.

The team held its first unofficial workout on Thursday, during which an osprey dropped a recently plucked fish onto the field between Ian Desmond and Denard Span. Desmond, a Florida native familiar with this type of happening, picked up the fish and tossed it over the fence.

On Friday, the Nationals reached an agreement on a one-year deal with Jordan Zimmermann, avoiding arbitration hearings with all their players. As a result, this season will mark the first since the introduction of the arbitration process in 1977 that every single eligible Major Leaguer will avoid the legal proceedings in coming to terms on their contracts.

As promised by EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo, the famous offseason facial hair styling’s of certain Nationals players began to be trimmed down for the season, most noticeably Danny Espinosa’s beard, which had gone untamed since the end of the 2012 season.

Hair Today…

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Those fans that made it out to NatsFest were treated to the offseason facial hair stylings of a number of their favorite players. While Jayson Werth arrived with his now-familiar grizzle, it was another member of the team who stole much of the spotlight: Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa’s propensity for quick facial hair growth had been pointed out numerous times since his arrival in The District, but he had never let it go beyond a week or two. Then, suddenly, the infielder showed up in Washington in late January, having not shaved since the end of the 2012 season. His mountain man image quickly spread across the internet, as fans wondered aloud if he had overtaken the title of best facial hair on the team.

EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo joked at NatsFest that the team had “some facial hair problems we need to attack.” And so, sure enough, off came the beard, one uncomfortably hilarious strip at a time. Enjoy the process as Espi returns from nearly unrecognizable to his usual self, with a couple of ridiculous stops along the way.

Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.

The Late Additions

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

While this year’s Washington roster seems mostly set, it is important not to underestimate the potential impact of Non-Roster Invitees on the structure of the club that will break camp at the end of March. Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado, Rick Ankiel, Corey Brown and Brett Carroll all played small roles for the Nationals in 2012, and Chad Tracy – yes that Chad Tracy – was himself an NRI last year. Tracy staked his claim as one of the best pinch-hitters in the game and earned a contract extension for 2013 near the end of last season.

The Nationals announced three more additions to their list of Major League Spring Training Non-Roster Invitees this week, adding Jeremy Accardo, Micah Owings and Chris Snyder. All three have interesting storylines or ties to the organization, but perhaps none is more compelling than that of Owings, who came to terms with Washington on Wednesday.

Owings has always been known for his bat, and will report to Viera as a position player.

Owings has always been known for his bat, and will report to Viera as a position player.

For those unfamiliar with his Major League exploits, Owings is most well known as one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball over the past six seasons. While his career ledger on the mound is 32-33 with a 4.86 ERA in 138 appearances (68 starts), he has batted .283 (58-for-205) with an eye-popping .503 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, only Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Tyler Moore (and Jhonatan Solano, in limited time) posted a higher slugging mark for the Nats last season than Owings’ career line.

His first season was his best, as he posted a .333/.349/.683 line to win the National League’s Silver Slugger Award in 2007, the same hardware Stephen Strasburg laid claim to last year. However, the 30-year-old Owings has shown enough continued promise at the plate that he will now attempt the same transformation as former National Rick Ankiel, moving from the mound to become a hitter.

“He’s worn all of the opposing clubs out at one point or another,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti of Owings. “So if you’ve seen the guy swing the bat the last couple of years, you’re intrigued. He’s a decent athlete as well.”

As you may remember, Ankiel had a pair of very strong seasons in his first two years after making the switch, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 110 over 167 games, posting a very comparable line to that of Owings, batting .270 with a .515 slugging percentage. Like Ankiel in 2007, Owings plans to focus entirely on his future as a hitter from here on out.

“We’re going to give him a go as a position player and see what happens,” explained Minniti. “We’re committed to it. He’s committed to it. We’ve got a couple of people here who know him from the past, including our hitting coordinator Rick Schu.”

Snyder, another former Diamondback, has experience catching Dan Haren.

Snyder, another former Diamondback, has experience catching Dan Haren.

Of course, just as he knows Chad Tracy (another player he drafted with Arizona) going into last year, Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo is very familiar with Owings. He was in charge of the Diamondbacks’ drafts when Arizona selected the Gainesville, Georgia native in the third round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Likewise, Rizzo was at the helm of the draft when his former organization selected Snyder back in 2002, the catcher the Nationals acquired earlier this week.

Snyder brings veteran depth with a decent eye (with a career on-base percentage 104 points above his batting average) and a little pop (hitting double digit home runs three times) to the Washington catching corps. The former Diamondback, Pirate and Astro provides a little extra insurance behind the plate as Wilson Ramos completes his rehab process heading into Spring Training.

“We like to go to camp with the proper amount of catching, and we felt like we wanted to add one more,” said Minniti of the Snyder addition. “We’ve got a couple of young guys that are very capable, but it just gives us a little more flexibility, having a good veteran to compete.”

A right-handed reliever, Accardo is the only one of the late additions who hasn’t played previously under Rizzo. However, he provides the Nationals with an interesting statistical note, as the fourth pitcher entering camp with a season of at least 30 saves under his belt in his career. While the former Blue Jay and Giant accomplished that feat back in 2007, he nevertheless merits inclusion with Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano and Drew Storen as the only such foursome reporting to a Major League camp this year.

From The Desk Of Mark Lerner: Welcome To Opryland

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Greetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.

Baseball’s Winter Meetings are well underway and almost at its halfway point.

But remember, Mike Rizzo made his primary strike last week with the addition of Denard Span.

In the weeks approaching the actual trade, Mike sold us on Denard and his place within our culture in D.C. His intangibles fit. As does his offensive game. As does his left-handed swing. As does his defense in center field, which frees up Bryce Harper from the rigors of that position and nudges Jayson Werth into a lineup spot befitting his talents (although he really was a heck of a leadoff hitter last year).

Davey Johnson got his center fielder and leadoff man in Denard Span.

Davey Johnson got his center fielder and leadoff man in Denard Span.

And when was the last time a Davey Johnson team had a true leadoff hitter of this caliber? I’ll have to ask him later today. Perhaps Eric Young in 1999 with the Dodgers?

As attractive as Denard is, to trade a young pitcher with Alex Meyer’s obvious talents is always difficult. We truly enjoyed having him in our organization and wish him nothing but the best in his future with the Twins.

I again have enjoyed the dialogue and debate that Mike cultivates in our War Room here in Nashville. The expertise and recall that all of our scouts possess on so many players is really remarkable. The stories told can only be described as priceless. It really is a fantastic group that Mike has brought together. Trust me when I say, these guys have it all covered.

I am also very much looking forward to NatsFest (Saturday, January 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center), which was officially announced yesterday. We think the timing and venue for NatsFest are the ideal way to celebrate last season and pivot toward what is setting up to be an exciting 2013 campaign. Cannot wait.

Until we blog again …

Spanning The Future

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

After much speculation about how they would handle center field for the foreseeable future, the Washington Nationals answered that question today, acquiring Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins. In exchange, Washington sent Minor League right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer back to the Twin Cities.

“He fits very well for us,” said EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo of Span. “His skill set is something we have been looking for for some years now. He’s a front-line defensive center fielder and a consumate leadoff type hitter.”

Span, after hitting a walk-of single last season with the Minnesota Twins.

Span is expected to lead off and play center field for the Nationals in 2013, allowing Bryce Harper to shift to a more natural corner outfield spot and Jayson Werth to return to the middle of the lineup. Rizzo cited the Nationals wealth of defensive outfielders, mentioning that all three were capable of playing center field at a Major League level.

“I’m definitely excited, I’m very excited to be coming to Washington,” said span of his trade to the Nats, specifically singling out Harper and Werth. “I’m ready to be coming to a team that is already in place to win. They’re definitely going to elevate my game, just playing alongside them.”

Rizzo also said on Thursday that he has had his eye on Span for a while now, and even saw him play as a prepster at Tampa Catholic High School. He explained that discussions with the Twins have been ongoing for the past three to four weeks, but that they accelerated at the General Managers Meetings in Indian Wells earlier this month.

Span has compiled a career .284/.357/.389 Major League slash line playing almost entirely in center field over the last five seasons for the Twins. He has also stolen 90 bases over that time, including 17 in 128 games last year. Rizzo believes that speed may develop even farther with Span’s move to the more small ball-oriented Senior Circuit.

“We think he’s really going to come into his own as a base-stealer here in the National League,” the GM said, also noting Span’s strong ability to make contact. “He’s one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out.”

Span is expected to lead off and play center field for the Nats.

The 28 year-old whiffed just 62 times in 568 plate appearances in 2012 while drawing 47 walks. Born in D.C., the Tampa, Florida native was originally selected 20th overall by Minnesota in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. After spending his first 10 years as a professional with Minnesota, Span said his change of scenery makes him a little nervous, but more so excited.

“That’s the greatest feeling any ballplayer can have is know they’re wanted,” said Span of Washington’s – and particularly Mike Rizzo’s – desire to acquire him. “I could hear it in his voice, how excited he was to have me.”

With the trade, the Nationals do not give up any Major League talent while acquiring a player in Span who is under contract for the next two seasons with a team option for 2015. Meyer, the return in the trade, just finished his first professional season, which he split between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac.

“To get a good, established Major League player at Denard’s age with the contract that he has, you have to give up a quality player,” said Rizzo, explaining that it is always a tough decision to part with young prospects, but that it was the right time for the move. “We feel that we have great depth in the Minor League system.”

With tonight’s trade, the Nationals have filled the first missing piece of their 2013 puzzle.

2012 Player Review: Gio Gonzalez

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we break down the remarkable first season of the heart and soul of the Nationals pitching staff, Gio Gonzalez.

When the Nationals sent four prospects to the west coast on December 23, 2011 in exchange for an All-Star but relatively unknown pitcher, some Washington fans were troubled. They had watched their team build steadily through the draft, relying on developing prospects to pull them to the brink of a potential breakout year. If there were any doubts as to the validity of the deal, EVP of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo put them to bed as best he could just two days later, showing the utmost confidence in his new left-hander by signing him to a five-year extension with options for two more seasons. Soon, the rest of the fan base would come to understand that they had not just acquired a promising young left-hander – they had just landed Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s power arm and infectious personality turned out to be a perfect fit in Washington.

Armed with a lively, mid-90s fastball, arguably the best left-handed curveball in the game, and one of the sport’s biggest personalities, Gonzalez turned out to be just what the talented young Nationals team needed. Slotting into the rotation as a southpaw presence between right-handed flamethrowers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez immediately gave Washington one of the best young staffs in the game for years to come. And from his sparkling D.C. debut in the home opener (7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) to a formidable stretch run that saw him win five of his final six games with a 1.35 ERA and notch his first career shutout, the 27 year-old anchored the best staff in the National League. He finished the year with more wins than any pitcher in the game (as well as the lowest home run rate and OPS against), and was squeezed out for second place in the National League Cy Young race.

Gonzalez is signed through the 2016 season, with a team option for 2017 and a vesting option for 2018 that will kick in should he reach 180 innings the year prior. We’ve already written plenty about Gio this season, so relive his memorable 2012 campaign in the articles below, and allow yourself to dream of what may come in the rest of his Nationals tenure.

Gio Dons The Red Jacket

Lasting Lessons

National Milestones

#CyGio

The Most Valuable Pitcher

– SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS –

The Most Valuable Pitcher

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

For better or for worse, Major League Baseball’s top pitching and player awards are not determined the same way. Critics hem and haw over what exactly “most valuable” means when it comes to determining the league MVPs each year. But the Cy Young is simply given to the pitcher considered, objectively, to be the best overall. There is no such thing as the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. For the Nationals in 2012, that’s a shame, as no pitcher was more valuable in the National League than Gio Gonzalez.

Gio Gonzalez had plenty of reasons to celebrate this season.

We here at Curly W Live are fully aware that wins should hardly be the decisive metric in determining a pitcher’s value, but Gonzalez’s totals were, nonetheless, impressive. The southpaw was the first pitcher in baseball to 20 wins this season, finishing with a Major League-best 21 victories. In so doing, he became the first D.C. lefty to win at least 20 games since Earl Whitehill in 1933, 79 years ago.

But let’s dive into the statistics that really set Gonzalez apart. The Hialeah, Florida native led all qualifying pitchers in either league with a .206 batting average against. He also struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings pitched, the highest rate of any pitcher to throw as many innings (199.1) as Gonzalez did. The 27 year-old lefty allowed just nine home runs all season, for a league-leading rate of just 0.4 per nine innings pitched. Considering that he pitched half his games in the 14th-highest ranked offensive ballpark by Park Factor, those numbers are all the more impressive next to Mets ace R.A. Dickey’s (Citi Field, ranked 23rd) and Clayton Kershaw’s (Dodger Stadium, 25th).

Gonzalez won Nationals fans over with his great smile and his great stuff.

Gonzalez was particularly strong in August and September as well, when the team needed him to step into the role of the top pitcher in the rotation. After earning his second consecutive All-Star bid, Gonzalez led the Nationals pitching staff down the stretch. He won eight of his final 10 starts while fashioning a 2.00 ERA over that span to help Washington win its first-ever NL East crown. He was even stronger in his final six regular season outings, going 5-1 with a 1.35 ERA (6 ER/40.0 IP) holding opponents to a .171 average.

While Gonzalez won’t be able to celebrate with any official hardware like Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and Manager of the Year Davey Johnson, he’ll no doubt take solace in the fact that he led his team to the playoffs, something to which neither of his fellow Cy Young finalists can lay claim.

In Davey We Trust

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

At nearly 70 years of age, there isn’t much that Davey Johnson has yet to accomplish in the game of baseball. He has already won a World Series as both a player and a manager, one of just five living men to do so. Coming into 2012, he had skippered three different franchises to the playoffs. And yet, he managed to notch a whole bevy of firsts in his first full season at the helm of the Washington Nationals. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the second BBWAA Manager of the Year Award of his career.

Davey Johnson won his second Manager of the Year Award this season.

He guided the franchise to a Major League-leading 98 wins, 17 more than the previous franchise high, set back in 2005. That success translated into the franchise’s first NL East title and Washington D.C.’s first postseason berth in 79 years. Mind you, of course, that while nobody else predicted such unprecedented success from the club, Johnson calmly and confidently told the baseball world exactly that – his team would be in the playoffs, all the way back before Spring Training began.

Despite a ton of early-season injuries to a good portion of his starting lineup, Johnson’s club either led the NL East or shared its top spot for all but 10 days this season. When the dust had settled, they owned the best run differential in Major League Baseball, outscoring their opponents by 137 runs over the course of the year.

Johnson, along with Executive VP of Player Personnel and GM Mike Rizzo, made the decision to keep Ross Detwiler in the Major League rotation at the end of Spring Training. That, along with the healthy returns of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson gave the skipper the National League’s best rotation ERA at 3.40. Once fully healthy, his offense went on to produce 194 home runs, second most in the league, establishing both franchise (1969-‘12) and D.C. baseball (1901-‘71, 2005-‘12) single-season marks.

Johnson has agreed to manage one final season for the Nationals in 2013.

Johnson registered the seventh 90-win campaign of his managerial career and joined the legendary Billy Martin as the game’s lone skippers to take four different teams to the postseason. Since shifting from a consulting role and returning to the dugout to assume the Nationals managerial helm on June 27, 2011, Johnson’s Nationals are 138-107 (.563). Just how good has he been at guiding his young squad? In that same time span, only the Braves (139) have won more games among NL teams.

Among those to manage 1,000 or more games, Johnson’s career winning percentage (1,286-995, .564) ranks second among all living managers behind his former skipper, Earl Weaver (.583). He will have one more season to improve upon those impressive credentials, having agreed to manage the 2013 season before retiring from the bench, back to the Nationals front office in 2014.

Congratulations, Davey. We can’t wait to see what you have in store for your grand finale.

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: An Unforgettable Journey

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

My intent was to post my own blog on the eve of hosting Game One of the NLCS. But the offseason came rather quickly, and in an especially cruel fashion.

I want to sincerely thank Nationals fans near and wide for their support during what was in so many ways a DREAM season. Your words and notes of support meant so much, not only to me, but my family.

Jayson Werth’s Game Four walk-off punctuated a thrilling season.

The roars heard in conjunction with Jayson Werth’s Game Four homer and the record crowd (45,966) for Game Five will long be remembered in these parts, but the 2012 season was so much more.

We, of course, began our journey together in the Grapefruit League. We survived an opener at Wrigley Field that appropriate for the Windy City. We Took Back The Park from the Phillies. We swept a series at venerable Fenway Park. We won The Pine Tar series from Joe Maddon’s Rays. We witnessed The Shark defy gravity in Houston.

We watched D.C.’s favorite teenager come of age right before our eyes. We watched our primary off-season acquisition exceed every expectation by winning 21 games and do it all with a smile. We watched our Opening Day starter win 15 games and provide us with the cushion needed to hold off Chipper’s 94-win Braves. And yes, in early September, we shut him down for all what we firmly believe to be the right reasons.

We won the NL East, arguably the toughest division in baseball.

We ended D.C.’s 79-year postseason drought.

Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo guided the Nationals to the NL East title.

We posted MLB’s best record.

We won 100 games.

We made a ton of history.

And, just as importantly, made a fleet of memories to keep us warm this offseason.

I want to acknowledge the efforts of Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, our coaching staff and especially the players themselves. What a fantastic season from top to bottom!

Setting aside the outcome of the World Series for a moment, I can honestly say that there is not one franchise in our game that I would swap futures with.

The 2013 season will not be without its own unique challenges. We are quite aware that there are no guarantees in this game. But I like where we are standing as a ballclub.

Let’s talk again soon, perhaps during MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville in early December.

Thanks again for an unforgettable journey…

Mark

The Fan In The Arena

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

These are the words of A. Bartlett Giamatti, from his classic essay “The Green Fields of the Mind,” which warrants a full read, whenever you are ready to digest the entirety of the end of the baseball season.

Even if you are not ready, though, not ready for baseball to come to such a sudden, screeching halt after riding an express train into October, do not run from it, do not abandon your feelings. Own this moment, as it is now an inescapable part of your team’s history, one that will, over time, earn you respect from fellow Nationals fans and opposing fans who have been through the same. It will make you stronger next year, and in the years after that. When the champagne comes again, it will taste sweeter.

The 2012 season was the beginning of an era for the Washington Nationals.

More so, remember the many other aspects of this season that will define it more than the final inning. In a season that began with modestly hopeful predictions, the 2012 Nationals won the most games in baseball. In the fever of the pennant race, that fact was reflected in home-field advantage, but some of its impact was no doubt overlooked in the moment.

As a young, hungry team and fan base, our time began on Opening Day and continued all summer long, as the Nationals held down first place longer than any other division winner, exceeding even the most optimistic of expectations. When the year began, Mike Rizzo explicitly stated that his goal this year was “to play meaningful games in September.” Instead, he and Davey Johnson guided the team into October.

The Nationals played, by far and away, the three most meaningful games in the history of the young franchise in Washington this week, and went toe-to-toe with the defending World Series champions in front of over 135,000 rabid, red-clothed fans. The city and the fan base showed a National audience that they have arrived, that baseball in Washington is a force to be reckoned with.

Fans ignited their NATITUDE well before this week, though, as crowds averaged over 30,000 per game for the first time since baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital in 2005. Nationals fans proudly took back the park in May during a pivotal series vs. the Phillies. And though the division rival fans to the north chirped mightily all season long, the Nationals came through on the field, wresting the division crown away from the five-time division champs.

In a season full of signature moments (which we will relive in more thorough detail throughout the coming weeks), the division clinch during the season’s final series may not have been the most dramatic, but it was certainly the most meaningful, representing a shift in the NL East balance of power.

Any opposing fan who believes this was a one-year fluke is, at best, blissfully oblivious to what has been built in Washington. With a roster overflowing with young talent just beginning to grow into itself, this is merely the end of chapter one, with many volumes remaining to be written in the coming years. So wear your Curly W’s proudly today and hold your heads up high throughout the winter. Baseball will spring anew again next year, and we will all be a year wiser, a year stronger, and ready to – in the words of Teddy Roosevelt – strive valiantly once again.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 609 other followers