Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo isn't trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes or deceive anyone, instead taking an honest (as possible) and straightforward approach to his work as the general manager of the 2012 NL East champs.
No Dunn Deal: Just about the entire baseball world was sure that Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo would trade Adam Dunn in late July of 2010. When the non-waiver deadline passed without the big, left-handed, middle-of-the-order bat being dealt, Rizzo told reporters the he didn't trade Dunn because he didn't get the right offer. "The reason that we didn't trade Adam Dunn," the general manager explained, "is that we never got a deal that we thought was equal or greater value to Adam Dunn. We were on the receiving end of the calls, we weren't making the calls, we got a lot of interest in Adam and just didn't see an equal return to what Adam Dunn brings to the ballclub on and off the field." Since they didn't trade Dunn, surely they would try to sign him that winter, right?
When Washington allowed Dunn to become a free agent, failing to agree on a deal before he hit the market, the baseball world once again wondered just what the Nationals were doing? "What in the world was Washington thinking?" ESPN.com's Buster Olney asked at the time. Rizzo didn't find the deal he wanted so he didn't trade Dunn, and when they couldn't work out a deal, they let Dunn go, he signed with the Chicago White Sox and they got two draft picks as compensation...
Second To None: The Nationals stocked up on draft picks for the June 2011 Draft and used the two picks they received as compensation for Dunn signing with the Sox to select right-hander Alex Meyer out of Kentucky and Brian Goodwin out of Miami Dade College after they had taken Anthony Rendon 6th overall with their own 1st Round pick. The Nationals also took lefty Matt Purke in the 3rd Round that year, giving the injured but impressive pitcher a well-above slot deal to get him to sign.
Asked about the class of prospects Washington drafted and inked, Rizzo boasted to reporters, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, that the addition of the players selected in 2011 gave the Nationals, "... a system that's second to none. We're the talk of the industry right now. This just solidifies us as one of the top scouting and player development organizations in the game." FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal took the time to record a tv spot after Rizzo's comments were published in which he chastised the GM for what he saw as confidence unbecoming an MLB executive and suggested the Nats' general manager take a more humble approach to his public statements.
No Wool Over Eyes: Though Rizzo didn't trade Dunn in July of 2010, he did deal veteran reliever Matt Capps. The right-hander had signed as a free agent in January of 2010 and saved 26 games for the Nationals before he was traded. Capps brought the Nationals the Minnesota Twins' top backstop prospect Wilson Ramos in return.
Ramos was blocked in the Twins' organization but highly-regarded. Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview at the time that he thought it was a trade that benefited both teams. "You don't pull the wool over the Minnesota Twins' eyes," the Nats' GM said, "Billy Smith is as sharp a baseball guy and [VP of Player Personnel Mike] Radcliffe over there, they're as sharp a baseball organization as there is and I think it was a trade that worked well for both teams."
"They had signed [Joe] Mauer to a long-term deal," Rizzo explained further. "They had a good backup guy in [Drew] Butera, and Ramos was kind of a luxury for them to have around. So they parlayed Ramos into a closer that got them the division title and into the playoffs and a guy that will probably help them do the same this year and we got ourselves a young guy that we believe is going to be a front of the line, catch-and-throw guy with power and offensive capabilities."
A's Trades: Billy Beane cited Rizzo's willingness to make mutually-beneficial deals as a reason he's been open to dealing with the Nats' GM several times in recent years. Washington sent Josh Willingham to Oakland in return for Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown. The Nats acquired Gio Gonzalez from the A's in return for four prospects, two of whom (Tom Milone and Derek Norris) helped the AL West franchise make it to the postseason last fall. The Nationals got Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics for the stretch run last August in a deal for 23-year-old catcher David Freitas who put up a combined .283/.377/.429 line at High-A Potomac in the Nats' system and Double-A Midland in Oakland's organization in 2012.
"'[Rizzo is] very straightforward and very decisive,'" the A's GM told ESPN.com's Buster Olney this past winter, "'He doesn't take the approach that it's got to be a zero-sum deal -- 'I win, you lose.'"
Playing God: Rizzo was straightforward and decisive in his handling of '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg's innings limit this past season as well, angering the baseball world in the process. The Nationals' GM laid out his plan for the right-hander well in advance and stuck to it in spite of the successful run the Nats made, winning their first NL East title before losing a five-game series to the Cardinals. When Washington was eliminated by St. Louis in the NLDS, the general manager stood by his decision to end Strasburg's season in early September , telling reporters, "We had a plan in mind and it was something that we had from the beginning. I stand by my decision and we'll take the criticism as it comes, but we have to do what's best for the Washington Nationals and we think we did."
Though some went so far as to accuse Rizzo of "playing God" with the Strasburg decision, the GM told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick he had just tried to be honest with Strasburg and the press throughout the entire process. "We told the truth going as far back as last winter," Rizzo said, "There was never any deception over what we were going to do and when we were going to do it."
More Fair Trades: The Twins were willing to deal with Rizzo and the Nationals again this winter. Washington acquired Denard Span from Minnesota in return for right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer, one of the Nationals' three 2011 1st Round picks and the Nats' top pitching prospect when he was dealt. "To get a good, established major league player at Denard's age, with the contract that he has," Rizzo told reporters after the deal, "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."
When the Nationals were negotiating with Adam LaRoche this winter, Rizzo was clear in conversations with the free agent first baseman and the press about the team's desire to have the 33-year-old infielder return on a two-year deal, and they waited for LaRoche to test the market before finally signing him to a 2-year/$24M dollar deal that included a mutual option for a third season. With LaRoche in the fold, Nats' slugger Michael Morse appears to be the odd man out. Asked if he would have to trade the middle-of-the-order bat this winter, Rizzo said that financially speaking, they don't necessarily have to make a deal. "He's a guy that financially we don't have to move," the GM told reporters, "We'd move him in the right deal."
"Certainly in any trade that would include a Mike Morse-capable player," Rizzo told reporters last week, "we'd like to get either controllable major league help or prospects to help [fill] the minor league system."
Sources FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal spoke to last week confirmed that the Nationals are asking for exactly what the GM said in return if they are going to deal Morse this winter, writing that they're looking for, "... high-ceiling prospects and possibly a left-handed reliever." Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo noted Boston's interest in Morse in his Sunday column this week, writing that the Red Sox might consider acquiring Morse should their deal with Mike Napoli fall through. The point of signing Napoli, however, was to, "... avoid giving up players in trade," Mr. Cafardo writes, or giving up draft picks should they sign a free agent that received a qualifying offer from their respective 2012 employers.
"The Nationals would want a reasonable return for Morse," Mr. Cafardo explains, "which would likely include one of Boston’s top bullpen pieces."
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell commented this weekend that a source he spoke to said he believes the Nationals will be able to get the return they're looking for in a deal for Morse. "'They'll be able to put a pretty good deal together for Morse,'" Mr. Boswell wrote, before explaining that by a "pretty good deal" he meant, "... a real prospect or prospects with more value than just a middle-of-bullpen LH reliever." If the Nats can't find the right deal, we're at least sure to get an honest explanation of why things didn't work out from Washington's refreshingly honest GM.