Before the 2009 season had ended, the Washington Nationals had already identified the areas that they needed to improve this winter with veteran starting pitching, backend bullpen help and a legit (defensive-minded) middle infielder at the top of their list. This afternoon in a Chat with fans at the Nationals' Official site, DC GM Mike Rizzo once again reiterated that the team's offseason plans haven't changed:
"Even with the addition of a quality back of the bullpen arm like Brian Bruney and a veteran catcher like Ivan Rodriguez, I still feel it is important to address the starting pitching, bullpen arms and middle infield defense."
The two questions I submitted weren't answered directly, but the topics they dealt with were addressed. The first concerned a couple on-the-cusp "prospects", Justin Maxwell and Roger Bernadina, and the role the two 26-year-old outfielders would play on the 2010 Nationals' roster. Bernadina, who suffered a fractured right ankle in April of '09, has, according to Mr. Rizzo, "...been cleared to participate fully in all baseball activity. He started participating again as far back as the instructional league in October." Mr. Rizzo makes no predicition as to what Bernadina might contribute this season, nor does he say whether or not Maxwell is ready for a bigger role with the team, but his comments on Maxwell mirror what fans consistently hear from the DC Front Office about the 6'5'', 225lb, '05 4th Round pick:
"We believe that Justin has grown as a player both on and off the field and fully anticipate him competing for playing time with the other talented outfielders we have. His makeup and positive attitude have been contagious in our clubhouse setting."
The second question I submitted dealt with the DC GM's presence at the recent bullpen session thrown by Cuban-born left-handed free agent Aroldis Chapman. I wondered why Mr. Rizzo was the only out-of-town GM to attend the exhibition, and what he thought of the 22-year-old fastballer, but the question that the moderators took dealt solely with Mr. Rizzo's impressions of the pitcher:
"Aroldis is an extremely talented, athletic left-handed pitcher with a ceiling as high as any current amateur pitcher in the world. He has great arm strength and velocity on his fastball and is just in his infancy as a frontline Major League prospect."
The rest of the quick chat can be summed up pretty easily...The Nationals are watching Bryce Harper along with the rest of the baseball world. Stephen Strasburg is recovering nicely from the knee injury he suffered in the AFL. The Nationals will be inviting far fewer players to Spring Training this year than they have in the past and Shairon Martis will be one of many starters competing for a spot in the Nationals' twenty-ten rotation...The Nationals are still looking for a middle infielder....uh...that's about it...What? Did you expect the DC GM to announce a major signing or trade?