The Washington Nationals, as we've read all winter, are hoping that the increased emergence of major league talent like they have at short in Ian Desmond, second in Danny Espinosa and on the mound in Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen and late this year or next Stephen Strasburg, from within the system will combine with the continued pursuit of the top talent available via free agency or trade to finally make the nation's capital a more attractive destination. Jayson Werth's agent Scott Boras said in a recent interview on MLB Network Radio that in addition to the talent they've added to their lineup in his client, part of the exorbitant price the Nats paid for a new right fielder was to purchase the perception that they were, "...an ownership that is now embedded in the market place as someone who is a destination that they know the ownership is committed,":
"So, in addition to growing for the player's performance, the brand in Washington is now a different brand. It is now an acknowledged brand. Their fans know it. Other players know it. And it provides a brand value to the franchise that did not exist prior to Jayson Werth signing."
It's not only the Werth signing, of course. Asked directly by MLB.com's Bill Ladson yesterday in an article entitled, "Rizzo has good feeling about Nationals", if he thought, "...the Werth signing will make players want to come to D.C.?" the Nats' GM said that the signing was just part of the process of building the team into a contender which will inevitably make Washington a more attractive destination...
"The Jayson Werth signing made us a better baseball team. That will make players want to come here. What it did prove is, we are here to win games. We have an organization that is willing to spend money to acquire talent. We showed it, not only in the last two Drafts, but in the free-agent market."
The inevitable question that followed this weekend in a series of interviews with the Nationals' General Manager conducted by Mr. Ladson, MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling and CSN Washington/NatsInsider's Mark Zuckerman was whether or not the Nationals are hoping the same improvement and increased viability as a team will attract a new manager to the bench in Nationals Park, since Jim Riggleman is back in the final year of two-year deal (2010-11) with a club option for 2012.
The Nationals, if they'd wanted to, could have bought Riggleman out after the 2010 campaign for just $100,000, but instead, after he'd led the Nationals to a 102-135 record in season plus on the bench, the Nats decided to bring Riggleman back for the 2011 season. What will Riggleman have to do to earn himself a third season on the Nats' bench? The Nationals cited the ten-game improvement in 2010 under Riggleman, (which tied Washington for the fourth-best improvement last year behind only San Diego (+15 wins), Cincinnati (+13 wins) and Tampa Bay (+12 wins) as they noted in the press release making the manager's return official. Will the Nats need to win ten more in 2011? Will Riggleman be back in 2012?
Asked by CSN Washington/NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman in an article entitled, "One-on-one with Nats GM Rizzo", if, "there [was] more pressure," on the Nats' manager and coaches to, "...start seeing results this year that you didn't see in the past?" Mr. Rizzo mentioned the ten-game improvement last season before reminding everyone that he's supported Riggleman from the beginning of the skipper's time in Washington:
"I'm very confident in Jim. I made him the interim manager. I made him the full-time manager. I've got all the confidence in the world in him that he's the guy who's going to lead us in '11 and beyond. He's got my utmost confidence, and he always has."
Is it a "must-win" year for Riggleman, "What's your take on how to characterize this year?" MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling asked in his article entitled, "Interview with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: Part 1." "Position players haven't reported yet," the general manager responded, "and we're talking about the manager's situation. I made Jim the interim manager. I gave him the full-time job. I've got great confidence in Jim Riggleman." But, "Is he in a must-win situation?", MLB.com's Bill Ladson asked:
"Rizzo: You are asking a Jim Riggleman question during the second week of Spring Training?
MLB.com: He is on a one-year deal.
Rizzo: Jim Riggleman is the manager of the ballclub. I have great confidence in him."
It's a legitimate question, of course, and one Washington's GM is going to be asked until the day Riggleman's return for 2012 is announced. The Nationals have built up their system, spending more money on the draft in the last two years than any team in baseball or draft history. They're aiming to win this season, but are gearing up for the 2012-13 window that's been identified as the time when the team thinks they can legitimately compete for a Wild Card birth or NL East crown. Is Jim Riggleman the manager who'll take them to the next level of just the skipper to get them to a place where they're as attractive to elite-level free agent bench managers as they are to pitchers and hitters?