The Washington Nationals held a teleconference this afternoon to get back in touch with the beat writers covering the Nats and provide updates on what's been going on at 1500 South Capital Street since the 2011 season ended with the Nationals 80-81 in 3rd place in the NL East. The conversation started with some talk about Chien-Ming Wang, the Nats' 31-year-old right-handed sinker baller who returned from two years of rehab for a successful run of starts at the end of the season. Wang's once again set to become a free agent, and the Nationals have to decide if what they saw from the former two-time 19-game winner is enough to warrant another deal.
There have already been reports that the Nats and Wang were in preliminary talks about a deal. The Nationals' general manager was asked if there had been any progress. "We are in communication and we're trying to negotiate a contract [with Wang]," Rizzo said, "I wouldn't describe it as imminent or close, but we're still communicating and we still have a mutual interest for Chien-Ming to sign with the Nationals."
Wang recently began training for the Taiwan Series (a five game series with an MLB team facing off against a Taiwanese All-Star team) that will be played next week in Taiwan starting on November 1st. Asked if the Nationals had any say about Wang's work load, the Nats' GM said, "No. Once he becomes a free agent we lose the right to monitor him or make any suggestions on work load and pitch limits and that type of thing. But he's got an intelligent agent who's been doing this for a long, long time and we've discussed what we believe are the parameters of how he should pitch in that tournament and so I think that they're going to be very careful and realistic about it."
As for the other players from the Nationals who'll be participating in the Taiwan series (Collin Balester, Ross Detwiler and Michael Morse for the U.S. team), Rizzo told reporters the Nats will have a say in how they're used. "The Detwilers, as far as pitching goes, we have a say in how they're used and make suggestions on pitch limits and that type of thing."
The first big decision for the Nationals this winter is whether or not to bring Davey Johnson back to the bench as the Nats' manager in 2012 and it sounds (as it has for a while now) like that decision, (as well as the decisions on who'll be on Johnson's coaching staff) are all-but announced. "Davey and I are in communication," Rizzo said, "Davey's been in communication with the staff throughout the offseason. We just have to stay away from announcing anything until after the World Series. After the World Series, you guys will be the first to know and we'll take it from there."
"I would say, total disclosure," Rizzo continued, "we're just waiting for an opportunity to make an announcement."
The conversation turned to free agency. The Nationals finished 16th overall this season as a result of their late-season surge, so their 1st Round pick isn't protected should Washington sign a Type-A free agent this winter. Rizzo was asked if that will impact the Nationals' decision-making process? "I'd say that it would be part of the discussion when we discuss free agents," Rizzo said, "I think it does have an impact because you lose the 16th player in the draft and that's important. So I think it would be part of our decision process and it does have an impact on us."
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters' right-hander Yu Darvish (who hasn't been posted yet with the Fighters still in the post season), wouldn't cost the Nats their 1st Round pick if they were to attempt to sign the starter. There had been reports in the past that the Nationals had scouted the 25-year-old pitcher, "Have the Nats scouted him this year?" Rizzo was asked, and would they consider entering the posting process? "We scout every player that we have interest in. Yu Darvish, specifically, is a player that has a great talent level," Rizzo said, "We've scouted him over the years, I've scouted him personally over the years, our pro scouts have scouted him this year specifically. We've scouted the whole Japanese Professional League as well as every other international league that plays organized baseball."
"As we've always said," Rizzo continued, "We're open to acquire talent in any way, shape or form that we can, and if it's international talent, we're certainly willing to acquire international players." Asked when he last saw Darvish pitch personally, the Nats' GM said, "I haven't seen him pitch for the last two seasons, but we've seen him pitch this year, several times."
The general manager wasn't willing to share information about payroll flexibility going into the Hot Stove season, explaining that, "To share payroll prognostications...there's a strategy that goes along with that. I think that information is for us so we can do what we have to do, as far as the industry, that people don't know what we can do, and what we're willing to do and what we're not willing to do. So, I think there's a strategy piece to that we need to keep that information in-house."
The Nationals have made no secret of their desire to add a pitcher to the rotation this year, and Rizzo once again confirmed that a legitimate starter is something Washington will target. The goal, he explained, "... is just to get the best possible rotation type of pitcher that we can. We like the players that we have coming in that are going to compete for our rotation in 2012, [and] we're always looking to upgrade and to improve our rotation. What we're trying to do via free agency or on the trade market, international market, would be to improve our rotation and we're always looking to upgrade."