Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rizzo on starters, Desmond, Strasburg

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VIERA, Fla. -- Mike Rizzo held court with reporters earlier this afternoon, sort of a "State of the Franchise" thing as camp opens. The second-year GM touched on all kinds of subjects, but here's a sampling of the most-significant things he said...

-- Though he stressed that he's never done looking for more help, especially on the pitching front, Rizzo did say he's "comfortable going into the season with the depth of the starting pitching we have." He made a point of mentioning three young pitchers returning from injuries (Matt Chico, Craig Stammen and Scott Olsen) as positive signs toward the overall improvement of the club's starting staff.

-- Sounds like you can scratch any serious talk of Ian Desmond becoming a super-utility guy. Rizzo said it's possible the 24-year-old will get a little bit of time at some other positions this spring, but his focus will be on shortstop. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Desmond either will open the year as the starting shortstop in Washington or in Syracuse. No backup role. "We're going to see where Cristian Guzman is in his health and his rehabilitation," Rizzo said. "It's going to bring great competition at the shortstop position. We're going to see where that leads us. I will say, Ian Desmond's going to play somewhere every day this season after spring training."

-- Though Stephen Strasburg will be considered for the Opening Day rotation, it sure sounds like he'll start the season in the minors. As for what Rizzo and Co. will be looking for out of Strasburg -- who throws his first bullpen session tomorrow -- it's more than just performance on the mound. "It's three-fold," Rizzo said. "It's physically, mentally and emotionally. You have to be physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to pitch in the major leagues to face the grind of Major League Baseball, the everyday-ness of it. You certainly have to prepare to pitch against the best players in the world on a consistent basis."

-- There figures to be plenty of competition on the relief side of the pitching staff this spring. Rizzo said he sees three spots up for grabs among seven guys. My best guess is Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, Sean Burnett and Tyler Walker are assured of jobs. The seven guys competing for the three open slots: Jason Bergmann, Tyler Clippard, Eddie Guardado, Ron Villone, Drew Storen, Ryan Speier and Miguel Batista (who could also wind up in the rotation). "I love having competition in spring training, because it brings out the best in these professionals," Rizzo said.

-- Though he wouldn't get into any specifics about talks with Adam Dunn, Rizzo made it pretty clear he wants to sign the big slugger to an extension. "It's important to me, because he's one of my favorite players on the team," Rizzo said. "I love the guy. There's not many 40-home run, 100-RBI guys running around out there. He fits in with this club. He's a very unique leader. He leads in a very quirky way, but leads nonetheless. He's always open to helping the younger players. We look at it this way: Several years down the road, if he continues at the pace he's at, we're going to be talking about Hall-of-Famer Adam Dunn."

-- There's no hard feelings on Rizzo's part toward the two players who just went through the difficult arbitration process: Bruney and Burnett. "It's a part of the game, it's the business part of the game," Rizzo said. "There's not two guys I like better on this team than Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney. I've known Brian since he was 18 years old. Nobody knows him better than I do. I love the guy. He's a talented performer for us. Both of those guys are going to be huge, not only in 2010, but I see them both as long-term pieces. We put that behind us, as I told them after the arbitration hearings. We put those things behind us and we move on and now it's baseball. All facets are happy that the arbitration process is behind us and baseball begins. They're big boys, they're professionals and they're going to put it behind them and perform admirably for us."


Brian said...

Mark - What are the odds Desmond gets a legitimate chance to unseat Guzman at SS?

How well would he have to perform to put $8M on the bench?

Assuming Desmond won the SS job outright, would Guzman accept such a demotion? He did not react well to being moved down the lineup last season, how would he handle losing his starting job?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Brian: My hunch is that the only way Desmond opens the year as the Nats' starting SS is if Guzman is either still hurt or traded. Just have a hard time seeing them bench the guy making $8 million. Do that, and you essentially lose Guzman altogether. Might as well cut him and eat the money at that point. Best guess: Guzman opens the year in D.C., Desmond in Syracuse. If he performs well down there, Guzman either gets traded or dumped in July and Desmond takes over. Again, just a hunch. A lot can change between now and then.

Farid in Idaho said...


With all due respect to your (very big) baseball brain, how could Tyler Clippard (4-2, 2.69, 5.4/4.8/10.0, .216/.323/.420 not be an iron clad lock for one of those spots?

Unless, of course, he is yet another who has neglected to mention an injury to the brass?

Anonymous8 said...

Brian - That is the mistake of the past few seasons in Washington and is probably what I have been most critical of.

Management convincing themselves that they have to play the veteran with the big contract instead of putting out the "best" player that will play better is not smart baseball.

Personally, I think if Guzy is healthy, it isn't the KEARNS situation. Now if Guzy is lousy, than you have to make the move to Desmond.

I don't ever want to see the constant showcasing of a mistake like LoDuca and Kearns and be a little quicker than was the case with Daniel Cabrera. Be decisive and don't wait until July 31st to empty the trash!

David said...

Why wouldn't Clippard be in that first group of relievers? He was pretty steady last year and was one of the more effective guys in the bullpen. Is it more of a experience thing with him?

Wally said...


Following up on the theme of your Desmond comment, I keep getting the sense that essentially there are going to be two teams this year. Rizzo opens the years with a vet heavy team, due to injury recovery and extraneous things like delaying the start of the MLB service clock etc. So Pudge, Guzzy, the vet relief guys all start the year, and in a best case scenario get off to a decent start (or at least avoid the disasters of the recent past).

But come midseason, the older guys start getting replaced by the younger ones (hopefully through prospect trades), and we see Flores, Desmond, Storen, SS all contributing significantly in a less pressured situation (ie the Nats are already out of the playoff running).

They could never admit something like that, but do you see any inkling of that, or am I still snow blinded?

Unkle Wheez said...

What? Clippard has to be guaranteed a spot. That guy is really good.

Anonymous said...

To review:

Nats Insider: Couple Rizzo quotes but several bits of insight.

MASN blog: Transcript.

Edge: Nats Insider

Well done Mark

bdrube said...

I'm sure they do not want Clippard to get complacent. Nothing wrong with that. If he has a solid spring I'm sure he'll be on the opening day active roster.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Just to clarify the bullpen thing: I think Clippard is a pretty safe bet to be on the Opening Day roster. If you asked me this morning how many guys were assured of jobs, I'd have said five: Capps, Bruney, Burnett, Walker and Clippard. So I was a little surprised when Rizzo said only four were guaranteed jobs. Based on that, I figured Walker was more secure than Clippard, based on more experience, track record and salary. But I think when it's all said and done, Clippard will be in D.C. on Opening Day.

Andrew said...

This is BIG news. I heard that the #1 Nats fans Curly Washington the monkey and his parents Colleen and Jeff arrived in Viera last night for the entire Spring Training.

That is truly a great story. They are what makes a team great. You have to have great fans! The players all know and love them and even guys like Scott Boras and many outsiders somehow find them!

Avar said...

Clippard was outstanding last year and is out of options. If he isn't on the roster, he goes on waivers and guarantee he will be claimed and the Nats will lose him w/ no compensation. Rizzo is being coy and/or trying to motivate, that's fine. But, Clippand WILL be on the roster.

Bergmann is also out of options and has been too good to put through waivers. He also will be on the 25 man April 1st.

I guarantee it.

alm1000 said...

Great work and I love the audio files. I can smell the grass getting cut by the tracter in the background.

peric said...

At this point ... given the starting rotation, don't you have to assume that .500 ball is basically almost completely out of reach? They may have their work cut out to keep from having the worst record in baseball again.

So, wouldn't it make sense to mix and match Desmond and Espinosa down in the minors? Team up Storen and Strasburg. Watch them along with Trevor Holder, Nate Karns and Aaron Thompson. Get Norris moving too, working on his catching to that he moves with them ...

It looks like a long-term approach where they really don't have the pieces they want ... continue to acquire players from outside, through the draft? But boy it still looks like 2-3 years to .500 ball?

peric said...

I just finished reading all the updates ...

At this point shouldn't one strongly suspect that a trade will be worked out involving Bruney? That quote: "Part of me has changed since that arbitration meeting ..." It almost sounds like he is asking to be traded?

There is Storen if Capps can't manage as well Logan Kensing?

Anonymous8 said...

Peric - I don't see 2-3 years to .500 ball as I keep envisioning that a couple of the Nats pitchers will be young guns, and expect 2011 to be a 81 win season.

I have no doubt that Jordan Zimmermann will be a top of the rotation starter. The position players are solid. Looking forward to seeing this 2010 team on the field.

Anonymous said...

Mark: Just out of curiosity on my part, but of the eighteen or so players on the 40-man who were tendered, how many were given raises over their 2009 salaries? We know Dukes is getting $33k more this year; Just wondering about the rest.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anonymous: To my knowledge, none of the other "under control" guys have signed yet. Those deals will all start getting done over the next week or two. Everybody gets at least a modest raise. It's based almost entirely on big-league service time, not on performance. Anyone with no major-league experience beyond a September call-up gets the minimum: $400,000. Everyone else makes slightly more, up to perhaps $500,000, again based on how much time they've spent in the big leagues so far.

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