D.C. GM Mike Rizzo made an appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. this afternoon to talk to hosts Danny Rouhier and Grant Paulsen about the beginning of Spring Training and the high expectations for the Washington Nationals this season, which are higher than they've been in any year since baseball returned to the nation's capital in 2005. The Nationals too expect a lot of themselves the general manager explained. "We've said all along that we're here to win games and to win championships and that type of thing," Rizzo said, "but it's not a short process, you need to build to that end. We [feel] that we've got ourselves a good foundation of a good ballclub. The Philadelphia Phillies are still the king of the mountain here in the National League East, and we've got ourselves in a very difficult division. With that said, though, we intend to be playing meaningful games in September and October. We're going to give that message to our players here when they all assemble, when position players get here and they take their physicals and we're ready to take the field."
"We've done a good job developing our young talent, our young core in the major leagues," Rizzo continued, "A good farm system. We made some acquisitions via trade and free agency that we like. We like the construction of the ballclub as it is and the future as it lays, and we're going to tell the players it's time for them to take the next step and win some ballgames."
• Listen to D.C. GM Mike Rizzo Talk Nats With 106.7 the FAN's Danny Rouhier and Grant Paulsen:
The Nationals improved from 59 wins in '09 when Rizzo took over as the Nats' GM, to 69 wins in 2010 and 80 wins last season. The Nats' GM was asked if another 10-game improvement be enough to consider the season a success or if the Nationals have to make the playoffs to consider 2012 a successful campaign? "I think we can look back at the season, at the end of the season," Rizzo said, and, "if we've played good baseball and guys have taken steps towards the next level and it's a year where somebody just has a terrific season ahead of us and we fall a little short of the playoffs, I can take that as a successful season, but again, we're here to win games, we're judged on wins and losses and we want to make the playoffs. We're not afraid to say the word this year. The onus of this is on the players, and they have to perform and we're going to let them know that and that's kind of the way I feel. But to answer the question, I think you can have a good meaningful season without making the playoffs this year, but I would probably be a little disappointed that we didn't make it."
After searching for legit starters to pitch alongside Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and a center fielder/leadoff man to fill that hole in the lineup his winter, the Nationals settled for adding all the pitching they could when they couldn't find the right outfielder. What was the thought process behind continuing to add pitching though they missed out on an outfielder? "The thought process is you can never have enough pitching," Rizzo explained, "You look at that Philadelphia Phillies team, the Atlanta Braves team and now the Miami Marlins team. They're running a good starter out at you every darn day and that's what you have to compete against. So we felt that if we couldn't fill the position of leadoff/CF in a way that made sense for us that we would go out and really strengthen what was already a pretty strong point of ours in the starting rotation and in the bullpen."
"The Gio Gonzalez trade we felt was a good trade for us cause it gives us a power, stuff-type of left-handed pitcher to put in between our two power right-handers [Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann]," Rizzo said referring to the deal that sent four of the Nats' top prospects to Oakland for the A's left-hander, "and it's not like we traded for a wily old veteran, this guy is a 26-year-old guy that's pitched in an All-Star Game and has had two terrific seasons already. He's a two-plus major league service time guy, so we've got him for a long, long time and his future is extremely bright and we feel that he has something left that's even better than he's already performed."
Who'll play center for the Nationals on Opening Day? "That's what Spring Training is all about," Rizzo said, and that's where the Nationals will answer that question one way or another. "There [are] a couple of spots of competition that [are] going to be open and that certainly is one of them," the GM continued, "We've brought in Rick Ankiel again for a second season with the Nationals. He had a terrific defensive season last year, showed great range in center field, he's got a cannon for an arm. It really is a weapon because he stops the running game on the other teams. We're hopeful that he has a bounce-back year and is an effective offensive player for us. But he's going to be in the mix. Jayson Werth has shown towards the end of the season and [in] seasons before that that he can handle the center field position. We've got Roger Bernandina. We've got some minor league guys coming into camp that are going to compete for some type of playing time and to make the club and you always have the flexibility of moving Jayson Werth to center and if a young player like Bryce Harper is ready to play in the big leagues, that also is an option for us."
The Nats' GM explained that when it comes to Harper, they want to be sure that when he's up, he's up for good. "How will they know when Harper is ready?" Rizzo was asked, when it's a matter of his maturity and mental approach to the game instead of simply production? "Because I'm with him every day of Spring Training," Rizzo said, "I've been with him for a year now, I know the player, I know the personality, I know what the player has to look like to be ready to play in the big leagues. I've been doing this on the player development side long enough. I went through another phenom at the same age in Justin Upton [in Arizona]. I've been down this road. Davey [Johnson's] been down this road before. We're going to do what's best for the ballclub and what's best for Bryce Harper and the [two things] they're not mutually exclusive, they may not be mutually exclusive. He's going to be a great player in this league, it's not 'if', it's 'when.'"