MASN sent out a press release this afternoon announcing that former Washington Times' Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling had become a "full-time reporter, blogger and on-air contributor" at MASNSports.com. I contacted Mr. Goessling (who worked with Mark Zuckerman covering the Nationals at the Times, and co-authored their Chatter blog) a few days ago and asked if he'd entertain the idea of an email interview to talk about the state of the franchise and the moves they've made since the '09 season ended...
(ed. note - "Ben Goessling changed his Twitter account from washtimesbb to twitter.com/masnnats.)
Federal Baseball (FB): Starting with what I think is the biggest question remaining for Washington this winter: Should the Nationals add a middle infielder like Orlando Hudson? Do they need a backup plan if Ian Desmond falters or Cristian Guzman struggles at second?
Ben Goessling: Hudson's name is one we keep hearing, but I think it depends on the price. He's had injury problems of his own, and lost most of the playing time to Ronnie Belliard down the stretch last year. If you can get him for a year at $2 million, sure. But I don't see the Nats spending much more than that on someone like Hudson. I do agree, though, that it's going to be interesting to see what they do with the middle infield. Desmond isn't exactly a sure thing, and Guzman could run into trouble. It's worth having a reliable option just in case one or both of them struggles. It just depends on the price, I think.
FB: Will Elijah Dukes finally have a breakout year? Is he going to claim right field as his own, or will this be his last season in DC?
Ben Goessling: He'll certainly get the chance to claim right field as his own. The Nats aren't exactly scouring the market for outfielders, and they like the adjustments he made (both on and off the field) after he got sent down last year. As to whether it's a breakout year? I think that depends on a couple things: His health, his ability to hit a curveball and his attitude. Baseball requires an even keel, and Dukes has had trouble with that in the past, especially when he goes into long slumps (which often come because of his struggles with curveballs). He's definitely starting to mature, though, and there's no question he's got the talent. But there are a lot of guys with talent that never figure out how to produce for 162 games.
FB: You and Mark Zuckerman seemed to really embrace Twitter as a way to connect directly to readers/fans, do you see it as a positive influence on sports reporting? What drew you to it?
Ben Goessling: I'll answer the second part first. A couple things drew me to Twitter: I'd seen another reporter or two start to use it before last season, but the thing that put me over the top was a conversation last winter with my wife's cousin, Andy Krzmarzick (don't even try to run that name through the spell check). He's a big social media guy (he currently is part of a project called GovLoop that's designed to use social media to increase openness in Washington government), and he was raving about how great Twitter could be for a ballgame. So I told my editors I wanted to give it a try, and it just took off from there. As for the first part of the question, I absolutely see it as a positive for two reasons: It allows you to be part of the conversation with fans in such an organic way, and it also helps your reporting. I follow a beat writer (or two) from almost every major-league city on Twitter, so when news breaks with their teams, I can see it instantaneously. It's kind of like an RSS feed for me, and at the Winter Meetings, it was invaluable. You do have to be careful with it--it's easy to throw anything up there in 140 characters, and accuracy still should take precedence over immediacy. But I absolutely love it.
FB: Were you surprised that Jason Marquis, Pudge Rodriguez and Matt Capps decided to join the Nationals? I was working under the assumption that Washington would have to have a little more success before players would choose to sign in DC...
Ben Goessling: So was I, although it's important to point out the guys they're signing aren't exactly Teixeira/Sabathia/Lackey/Holliday quality, and guys aren't locking themselves in for four or five years. Here's the key, at least the way I see it: They're not paying as much of the "loser's premium" as I thought they'd be, at least in the case of a guy like Marquis. He got $15 million over two years, which was right in line with what other pitchers in his class were getting. You can argue they had to pay more for Pudge, but I don't think any of their signings this winter were stratospheric in terms of cost. I've already heard guys talking about their excitement for playing with Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, as well as whoever the Nats draft with the No. 1 pick this year. There's an excitement about the young players the Nats have coming in, and I think that's a bit of a selling point.
FB: Is it safe to say last year was Ryan Zimmerman's breakout season in terms of national coverage? With Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and another no. 1 pick next year can the Nationals finally capture DC fans' attention the way the Capitals have? Or is it just about winning?
Ben Goessling: I touched on this just a little bit above, but yes, I think it was Zimmerman's breakout year. The hitting streak, especially, helped him get noticed. I think fans started to learn his name and realize he's one of the best third basemen in the game. But here's the problem with Zimmerman: He's been around. Fans in this market already knew what he can do. He's not a new commodity like Alex Ovechkin was. Strasburg, in that regard, has a better chance to create a buzz. That will certainly help, but I think winning has a lot to do with it. The Capitals weren't as hot as they are now, even with Ovechkin, before they started winning big. If the Nats can be competitive into September one of these years, I think you'll see a big difference.
to be continued...
Part 2 of the interview will go up here at federalbaseball.com at 11:00 am EST. Topics: Riggleman vs Acta; Aroldis Chapman; Strasburg and Storen; Washington Nationals: Behind the Plate; The Nationals beat...