To my count, the Nationals have made four major moves in the 2009 offseason: they've signed Doug Slaten from the Diamondbacks, traded for Brian Bruney, signed future hall-of-fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez, and signed Jason Marquis, a former Rockie. But the moves don't stop there -- the Nats are reportedly interested in Texas reliever Eddie Guardado, are still interested in Matt Capps and have shown more interest than most in Aroldis Chapman, who is widely considered the top free agent pitcher this offseason. I am very impressed with what Mike Rizzo has done thus far, and here is why:
1.) He's brought in one of the veteran starters they so desperately needed. Jason Marquis, while far from an ace, is a reliable arm for the top of the rotation and he pushes the Nats' other arms down a rung. The Nationals' ERA for starters was 4.97 last year, good for 27th in the majors. In signing Marquis, Rizzo has knocked a younger pitcher out of the rotation and replaced him with a more reliable, more knowledgeable one.
2.) He's shored up the Nats' leaky bullpen. The Nats' relievers finished dead last with a 5.09 ERA last season, more than a full run above the National League average. The two relievers the Nats have brought in so far have ERAs of 4.27 (Brian Bruney) and 3.68 (Doug Slaten). Along with Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett, the Nationals have the basis of a solid bullpen in 2010. If they are able to sign Matt Capps as well, who has closing experience, things will be very different next year.
More reasons after the jump...
3.) He's bought some catching insurance in Pudge Rodriguez, in case Jesus Flores doesn't work out in 2010 (or ever). The 38-year-old Rodriguez seems to think he's capable of being an everyday player. With a two-year contract, the Nats can take their time in bringing up catching prospect Derek Norris, who finished the 2009 season with single A Hagerstown.
Really, at this point, I like all of the moves that Mike Rizzo has made. Sure, he's paid a little bit more than I would have liked, but when you're at the bottom, you have to pay more to get the players you want. Mike Rizzo has made it clear that he isn't done making moves this offseason, so here's what I'd like to see him do:
1.) Sign another veteran pitcher. Right now, the rotation has only two locks in Marquis and John Lannan, leaving three spots for J.D. Martin, Ross Detwiler, Collin Balester, Garrett Mockand Craig Stammen to fight over at spring training. Signing another veteran would mean only two of those pitchers (Detwiler and Stammen, I'm looking at you) would be needed in the major league rotation, allowing the rest to further develop in Syracuse or be pushed to the bullpen. The Nationals won't be contenders in 2010, so signing an ace isn't necessary, and the Nats can save some bucks there.
2.) Sign Aroldis Chapman. Mike Rizzo was one of only two GMs to see him pitch, and was the only GM who traveled to see his bullpen session. Rizzo's appearance signals serious interest, or at least curiosity, but Rizzo was impressed when he left, calling Chapman "an extremely talented, athletic left-handed pitcher with a ceiling as high as any current amateur pitcher in the world." At a cost of $15-20 million for four or so years, Chapman is certainly not without risk, but coming off of back-to-back 100 loss seasons, the Nationals are a team that needs to take risks. Signing Chapman would also show once and for all that the Lerners are willing to spend money on their team, as undeserved as that reputation is. With two high upside pitchers locked down in Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman, the Nationals could be contenders sooner rather than later.
I don't see signing a second baseman as a huge priority. If Guzman does in fact move to second, he'll be better off than he was at short, and even then he's only around for one more year. Save the money, spend it on Chapman, and figure something out after 2010. Until Rizzo gives me reason to think otherwise, I'm just going to accept the fact that he knows a lot more than I do, and believe that he's doing the right things.