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.")
FB: Was there any noticeable difference in the clubhouse once Jim Riggleman replaced Manny Acta? Did you think Riggleman would be back this season?
Ben Goessling: Yeah, there was; players weren't available to the media as much before games, because they had to be out on the field for extra work so much earlier! In all seriousness, though, I thought you could see a change in attitude and in the way they played. Riggleman ran a tighter ship--not so much in a disciplinarian kind of way, but in a manner that made it clear the fundamentals would be practiced, every day. I think the decision to address the team after every game made a difference, too. Now, the question is, will that approach work for a full season? It's one thing to do it for a half-season when you're an interim manager with nothing to lose; it's another when you've got a multi-year contract and you need to make sure your message stays fresh. But I think Riggleman gets that. From the people I talked to, I got the sense Riggleman was the favorite most of the time to be the permanent manager. I think everything the Nats did in their search--especially the relaxed way in which they conducted it--played off of that. Why rush into a bidding war with four other teams when you've got a guy you're comfortable with?
FB: In your opinion, is Aroldis Chapman a wise investment for Washington?
Ben Goessling: I really don't think it's going to matter; the Nats haven't said they're in on him, and he'll get more money from another team than they're willing to pay. It's tough to see them giving Chapman more than they gave Strasburg, though this wouldn't be a case of upsetting the structure of a certain player acquisition method for one player. That was a big concern with Strasburg; the Nats didn't want to create precedent that would send draft picks' contracts through the roof, especially when they've got to do this all again this year. There have been foreign players to get big dollars before, so giving Chapman a big contract wouldn't ruffle feathers that way. Chapman's stuff is supposed to be as dynamic as Strasburg's, and he's got the added bonus of being left-handed. But I think part of the rationale for paying Strasburg $15 million is, he's already a polished product. He's not going to be a guy you have to keep in the minors for long. From what I've heard about Chapman, he might not be as fine-tuned as Strasburg, and I can't see the Nats overpaying for pitching if it comes with risks they see as being prohibitive.
FB: Will Stephen Strasburg and/or Drew Storen start the season in DC? Should they?
Ben Goessling: Can I get back to you on that one in March? :-) I think if one of them does, it'll be Storen, for two reasons: He's already excelled in Double-A, and he won't have anywhere near the pressure and spotlight Strasburg does. My guess on Strasburg is, he'll spend a couple months in the minors before coming up this summer. But if he's dominant in spring training, can they afford to send him down? I wouldn't want to be Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman the day they have to make that decision.
FB: With Pudge Rodriguez signed, Derek Norris and Sean Rooney in the system, and Bryce Harper the projected no. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, is Jesus Flores going to miss his window to make a significant contribution behind the plate in DC?
Ben Goessling: This, to me, might be the most interesting development of the offseason. When Rizzo started referring to Norris as the catcher of the future at the Winter Meetings, it didn't seem like a slip-up; I got the impression there's been a shift in the organizational philosophy that now has Rodriguez and Flores keeping the seat warm until Norris is ready. I'm not 100 percent sure they draft Harper, or if he stays a catcher in the event they do draft him. But I do think they're high enough on Norris and expecting enough out of Pudge that Flores, at the very least, isn't guaranteed to be in the picture anymore. There are some interesting implications in all of this for Flores, as well as how much success the Nats can claim for putting young pieces in place thus far.
FB: Can you think of any one thing about baseball you've learned since you started working as a reporter that you never would have known as a fan?
Ben Goessling: Probably how few guys live the glamorous, seven-figure contract life. I've heard so many stories from guys like Kory Casto, Jason Bergmann, Mike O'Connor and the like, where they're driving to Columbus or Syracuse one day, only to turn around for Washington the next day when somebody gets injured. There are a lot of guys who go back and forth between the majors and minors and essentially live their lives out of a suitcase; they can't afford to make more permanent arrangements, because they don't know where they're going to be in two months. But they make the late-night drives and the red-eye flights because they're trying to find some window to get the life of a guy like Ryan Zimmerman, where certainty and long-term financial security are realities. When you look at a transaction in the newspaper, you don't think of all the short-notice travel and adjustments that have to be made because of it. That's why, to me, baseball players are among the most humble athletes in professional sports--because the game keeps them humble.