The Washington Nationals have the pitcher they were after, having acquired Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A's in a four for two trade. They've conceded that the center fielder they're looking for might not be available this winter. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's comments about Adam LaRoche, Prince Fielder and the Nats' search for an outfielder got most of the headlines following the Washington Nationals' general manager's appearances on MLB Network Radio and ESPN980 this past Wednesday, but he did talk about a few other things.
Asked what remained for Washington to do this winter, Rizzo told MLB Network Radio host Mike Ferrin, "We've got a lot of work to do. We're never satisfied. We'd like to supplement our bullpen a little bit. Get a little veteran presence in there. We'd like to address our offense. We certainly would need to figure out an answer in center field for us and so we still have some work to do. We never sit on our laurels here. We've got a vision and a plan in place to make these things happen. But we do these things and deals that make sense for us and if a deal makes sense we'll aggressively pursue it, but we're not going to do anything knee jerk just to do something and try and fill a gap when it doesn't make sense for us in the long-term."
The acquisition of Gonzalez, (a 26-year-old left-hander who figures to slot in between 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg and 25-year-old righty Jordan Zimmermann), in return for four prospects (24-year-old left-hander Tom Milone, right-handers 23-year-old Brad Peacock and 19-year-old A.J. Cole and 22-year-old catcher Derek Norris) was, "...within the threshold of pain-tolerance," Rizzo said the organization could accept to get what they wanted, and it was made easier by the fact that the GM and his front office believe they have, "... a group of minor leaguers below them in the next wave that's coming that we feel will be as strong if not stronger than the wave we've given up."
"My tolerance was at the level that we were," Rizzo said, "Giving up four for one we felt was something that we did not want to do and [A's GM] Billy Beane and I negotiated a deal that we got a nice piece back in [24-year-old right-hander] Robert Gilliam that kind of took a little bit of the sting off and made it a 4-for-2 deal instead of the 4-for-1, but make no bones about it, we gave up four good, solid prospects for a known 26-year-old commodity that we feel is going to be strong for us for a long time moving forward."
Filling out the rotation is a process that will take place in Spring Training as three pitchers battle it out to join what Rizzo referred to as the Nats' "young, big three" Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann. "We're going to have great competition for rotation starters," the GM told the ESPN980 Radio hosts Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, "We've never had that problem here since I've been around." After Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann, battling for the final three spots will be a, "25-year-old Ross Detwiler, you've got a 31-year-old Chien-Ming Wang [and] you've got a 27-year-old John Lannan," Rizzo said, "That's three guys that we feel that give us great depth and great ability-levels."
"We feel good about our rotation. We feel good about our depth after our starting five," Rizzo said, even after the deal with Oakland that sent MLB-ready arms in Peacock and Milone to the A's. "We feel that we've got replacement parts for them, because as we all know, it takes more than five starters to get through a major league season. We feel that we have depth there. We feel good in our bullpen. We feel good about our good young core of position players. And, the most important part [of the Gonzalez deal] was, and a part that our threshold of pain would not allow us to (and this was told to Billy Beane), we weren't going to touch our group of young core players that are already in the big leagues."
When the Nats eliminated the possibility of including players like Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Jordan Zimmermann, Washington's "two super prospects" as Rizzo describes them in Strasburg and Bryce Harper and the prospects from the 2011 Draft class, the A's were still left with a large pool of players to choose from in the Gonzalez deal and the Nationals' GM said, "When we narrowed it down to the players that our tolerance allowed us to do it, we felt that it was a prudent deal for us to do because it got us what we needed and fulfilled all of our criteria. This guy has to be young, controllable, talented and the make-up has to be there, the physical abilities have to be there, the medical history has to be solid and we feel that we checked all the boxes when we acquired Gio [Gonzalez]."
The Nationals' GM spoke at length about the possibility of signing soon-to-be international free agent Yoenis Cespedes, using Jayson Werth in center and potentially bringing Bryce Harper up to fill a role in the 2012 Nats' outfield, but hinted that the 2013 class of free agents might be more likely to provide the team with the center fielder they've been after all winter. ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote Thursday in the, "Moves, deals and decisions" section of an article on the best infields in baseball that their was another possibility for the Nationals to consider if they'd entertain a "short-term stopgap" option.
Cubs' outfielder Marlon Byrd could probably be had, ESPN.com's Mr. Olney suggests, "He's a good guy and a solid veteran when healthy," and with the 34-year-old in the final year of a 3-year deal that pays him $6.5M this 2012 before he becomes a free agent he wouldn't block the likes of Harper, who should be ready to join the Nats' outfield in the near-future. The Nats' GM didn't mention any other options they team is exploring, but he did tell the ESPN980 hosts Washington wasn't done.
"We're never done," Rizzo said, "We're always trying to tweak the ballclub, to improve the ballclub and any kind of acquisition cost that makes sense to us, we're going to be aggressive in trying to fulfill it."