With the addition of 32-year-old right-hander Dan Haren, the Washington Nationals have high expectations for a team that won 98 games and the NL East last season. It's "World Series or bust," according to the Nats' skipper and the players seem to like the sound of that.
The Washington Nationals knew they wanted to sign Dan Haren this winter. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters this week that he was identified early as the Nats' no.1 target. When there was mutual interest on the pitcher's part, the general manager explained, the Nationals didn't waste too much time talking to other pitchers or getting a 1-year/$13M dollar deal done with the pitcher who spent the last two and a half years in the LA Angels' rotation. "He was our primary target," Rizzo said, "and we were aggressive on him and went after him quite aggressively, and he chose us so we kind of took everything else off the backburner." Though Haren told reporters there were other teams interested in his services, he too said that once he knew the Nats were interested there wasn't much talk with anyone else.
"I didn't really push teams too far," the 32-year-old right-hander explained, "I think I could have maybe held out a few days longer or even held out til now. But I just thought that if the Nationals were competitive with what the other teams were offering that the Nationals were just a better fit for me. There were quite a few offers and there were a couple of offers from the west coast, which my family would have probably liked a little bit more just because I would have been closer to home, but the team the Nationals have... I sat down with my wife, talked about it a lot, and she got on board."
A visit to D.C. convinced Haren he had made the right decision. "It's going to be a little adventure for the family, but we have really high expectations for the team, so it's always fun winning." The Nats' new right-hander isn't the only one with high expectations for the 2013 Nationals. Davey Johnson told reporters last week that after winning the NL East in 2012, the motto for the upcoming season was, "World Series or bust." Those comments by the Nats' 69-year-old skipper apparently impressed another potential addition to the Nationals' roster. Left-handed reliever J.P. Howell told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore he loved to hear the Nationals' manager's confidence and would like to be a part of the roster that attempts to return to the postseason:
"'I love how he says, ‘World Series or bust,’ said Howell, who pitched for Johnson in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. 'That’s a great quote. I love to play like that. That’s just how I like to play. That’s what’s expected.'"
Asked for any updates on the Nats' search for bullpen help Friday night, the Nats' general manager would only say that there hadn't been any developments since the team's representatives left the Winter Meetings having added the center fielder they wanted in Denard Span just before things got going down in Nashville and then signed the pitcher they wanted as this year's event came to a close. The acquisition of Haren gives the Nationals a rotation that barring any injuries or setbacks will included Stephen Strasburg (without limits), Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler.
Though the Nationals identified and signed their top target, the Nationals' GM said the team wasn't necessarily done looking for pitching depth this winter. "We feel very comfortable and confident with the five current rotation guys that we've got," Rizzo said, "And the current guys that we feel that could be that sixth, seventh or eighth major league starters if need be, but again, with that said, we're always on the lookout to [improve] our ballclub." Haren spoke to reporters this past Friday night about the rotation he'll be joining and said he's comfortable being the veteran member of a young-ish group of starters.
"I'll do all I can," Haren said, "I'm pretty open with talking to guys. Even with teams I've been [with] in the past, I think everyone feels comfortable talking to me. With anything, I think this is my fifth team, it's going to take time. I'm not going to really be myself right when I get to Spring Training. It takes time to learn guys, whether it be sense of humors, or how you talk to different guys, how you get through to guys, it's going to take a little bit of time, but I'm sure we'll gel together quickly."
"On teams that I've been [on] in the past," Haren continued, "I think it's important just for the starting staff, those five guys, to be close, to be each other's no.1 fans when they're out there, always being on the bench and pulling for the guy. It's fun when you have a cohesive unit like that and you can turn the rotation over with a lot of success. Rotations like this, the hope is you don't get into too many long losing streaks, just because any particular guy can be the stopper, and the flip side of that, when guys get going I'm sure there will be quite a few winning streaks."
"You put all those things together," Haren said, "and the expectations are definitely high."
The Nationals are still looking for starting depth. They're still looking for a left-handed reliever. The Nationals are still waiting for Adam LaRoche to make a decision on where he'll play next season and once he decides they might have to make a move involving Michael Morse who was pushed out of the outfield by the Denard Span acquisition and would be pushed out of a job at first if LaRoche returns. The Nationals aren't done making moves this winter, but with the addition of the center fielder/leadoff man and "fifth" starter they were looking for the last two weeks went a long way toward shaping the roster that will attempt to defend the NL East title.