"We like to keep (off-season) things under wraps,'" Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell as quoted in a chat with WaPost readers earlier this week. "When you hear our name linked with a player, you know those are the things that are NOT going to happen." B.J. Upton? Michael Bourn? The Nationals were linked to both free agent outfielders in recent weeks and they reportedly at least reached out to Upton already this winter. "I suspect the Nats are kicking the tires on a CF who's not Bourn or BJ Upton," the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell wrote after talking to the Nationals' manager and general manager this weekend, "Doubt it's [Shane] Victorino because he hits better RHed than LHed and the Nats need LH bats more if they lose [Adam] LaRoche."
The Nationals had tried to acquire left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder Denard Span before as well, and last night the Nats and the Minnesota Twins finally agreed on a deal that both sides were comfortable with and the 28-year-old was traded to the nation's capital in return for 22-year-old, 6'9'' right-hander Alex Meyer, considered by most to be the best pitching prospect in Washington's system. "To get a good, established major league player at Denard's age, with the contract that he has," Rizzo told reporters last night, "you're going to have to give up a good quality player. [Twins' GM] Terry Ryan is one of the best general managers in the game. You're not going to pull the wool over his eyes."
Mr. Ryan was clearly happy with the return he got for Span, who was coming off a .283/.342/.395, 38 double, four triple, four home run, +3.9 fWAR season in his fifth year in the majors in 2012. "'This guy, even though he's been in pro ball a short time, has first-round status,'" Minnesota's general manager told Star Tribune reporter Lavelle E. Neal III last night, "[Meyer is] out of the University of Kentucky, highly touted. These guys are hard to get, and if you are going to get them it's going to be in the low to mid-minors. Once they get up to Double-A or Triple-A they are almost impossible to get."
The Nationals got an outfielder who is under contract for the next two years with a team option for a third who can help them now and not block the outfield prospects already in the organization. The Twins got a highly-regarded pitching prospect described by Nats' Director of Scouting Kris Kline on the night of the 2011 Draft as a pitcher who, "... has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Worst-case scenario, you've got a [Daniel] Bard-type reliever with a better slider and somebody that you bring in at the back of your bullpen that can dominate."
Washington and Oakland made a big deal last winter when the Nationals acquired pitcher Gio Gonzalez (along with RHP Robert Gilliam) in a 4-for-2 trade that sent RHPs A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, LHP Tommy Milone and catcher Derek Norris to the Athletics. When A's GM Billy Beane talked to ESPN.com's Buster Olney for a feature on the Nationals' GM this winter, he too told Mr. Olney that he liked, "... dealing with the Washington GM because Rizzo is unafraid, unlike some of his peers."
"He's very straightforward," the A's GM explained, "and very decisive. He doesn't take the approach that it's going to be a zero-sum deal, -- 'I win, you lose.'" The WaPost's Mr. Boswell noted this trait of Rizzo's again this morning in an article on the Span trade. "You don’t keep getting to make good trades, like grabbing Kurt Suzuki after the trade deadline when he cleared waivers, if you humiliate the other general manager in public every time," Mr. Boswell writes:
"You complete trades, like Span for Meyer, because the GM on the other end of the line thinks, "Rizzo got Gio last winter and he won 21 games. But Billy Beane got what he wanted, too, and they both won their divisions. Why’d the Nats get Suzuki from the A’s? Because Derek Norris was in the Gio trade, too, and he became their starting catcher."
"For now when Rizzo and the Nats call, the thought "win-win" comes to many minds. Once again, Rizzo gave quality to get quality."
So what's next on the Nats' GM's list of things to do this winter? Rizzo isn't saying, of course. The Nationals got the center fielder they were after which allows them to move Bryce Harper to a corner spot like they wanted to, solving an issue that was high on their list along with getting Adam LaRoche signed and adding a starting pitcher. "We also have a lot of other things on our agenda to improve our ballclub because as we've seen the other teams in our league, they're not standing pat," Rizzo said last night, "Everyone's trying to get better and we're trying to put the right moves in to compete with them and to stay a competitive ballclub."
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark (@JaysonST) wrote this morning on Twitter that he heard, "In the wake of Denard Span deal, [the] Nationals are, 'definitely shopping Mike Morse a little bit,' says AL exec. Could deal Morse & sign LaRoche." Asked last night if he'd gotten any calls on Morse this winter, Rizzo was coy, telling reporters simply, "We've had some inquiries about Michael Morse and several other players on our roster..."
He just left it there.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal recommended that signing free agent right-hander Zack Greinke should be the next move in an article published after the Span trade was announced last night. The signing might be a smart one for Greinke, Mr. Rosenthal writes, "Think he wouldn’t want to join a rotation that already includes [Jordan] Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez? Or pitch in the National League, backed by the league’s best defense?"
While Rizzo didn't address the talk about Greinke last night, he has recently, and he wasn't ruling anything out when he spoke to reporters after acquiring Span. "We haven't taken anything off the table," the Nationals' GM said, "We're still going to be active in the trade market, in the free agent market. It does give us some flexibility and some options. We've got some good, young controllable players, which is always a good thing for an organization to have and we're going to make the best decisions for the long-term well-being of the franchise."
Oh, and Davey Johnson's said he's going to pitch LaRoche on returning to the nation's capital when they're both at Johnson's golf tournament today...