The news, delivered via MLB Network Radio and through an interview with the Washington Post, that the Washington Nationals had reassessed their chances of landing the sort of top-of-the-rotation starter they had set out to sign this winter, and decided that they weren't likely to land Cliff Lee (though they'd of course try) or one of the other starters available this year who had prohibitive costs either in dollars for mid-30's mysteries or prospects for arms available in trades that were likely to go to more well-stocked and financed teams, seemed like the Nats at their most transparent. DC GM Mike Rizzo, in a November 11th interview with Sirius/XM MLB Network hosts Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy of "Power Alley", offered an honest answer when asked about the team's chances of landing Cliff Lee, clearly the best and most sought-after arm available this Winter:
"He's a number one starter in the major leagues. We have contacted his agent and begun discussions with him, but I'm certainly not going to put all my eggs in the Cliff Lee basket cause I think the chances of Cliff wanting to come to the Washington Nationals at this time in our franchise is small."
In a Nationals Journal post by Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore after the GM Meetings in mid-November entitled, "The Nationals' search for a top starter won't be easy", the Nats' General Manager said that he'd, "...be comfortable [trading valued prospects] depending on who we are losing," but had to consider if, "To acquire that pitcher, that's a front-of-the-rotation guy, to fill that hole, that No. 1 starter," would, "...create so many other holes in your ball club that it's not worth it?" Mr. Rizzo didn't mention any names, but other writers have and the question is whether it's worth it, if a pitcher like Zack Greinke would agree to leave AL Central's basement for the NL East's in the hope change was in store in the nation's capital, to make at deal that would cost the Nats an Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, or both and perhaps more?
In their public statements about the negotiations with Adam Dunn, however, it was a less transparent Nats at work, which D.C. GM Mike Rizzo warned would be the case from the start. Asked in a post-Non-Waiver-Deadline press conference if the Nats had to sign Adam Dunn to make not trading him at the Deadline the right decision, Mr. Rizzo responded that the Nats were, "...going to talk extension with Adam Dunn's representatives," but they were, "...certainly not going to discuss that with the media," which is more in line with what we've come to expect from the Nats' Front Office under Rizzo's leadership.
"The Nats' best hope for a reasonably constructive winter is Rizzo's history of thinking outside the box and running silent until he's ready to act," Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote this week in an article entitled, "It's hot stove time, and it's not too early to worry about the Nationals", in which Mr. Boswell excoriated the Nats' ownership for not following former team President Stan Kasten's advice that having assembled a talented core of young players, "'Now, it's time to add key pieces,'" and for continuing to run everything by, "the Nats' board of directors, which is completely Lerner-controlled with no baseball people at all," and has already, in Mr. Boswell's estimation, blown the Dunn negotiations by misjudging the situation completely. Mr. Boswell does note, however, as others have written before, that Rizzo has "championed" the idea of adding Carlos Pena to replace Dunn.
Having "lost out" on Adam Dunn, who signed with the White Sox for 4-years and $56 million dollars, the Nats now have a need in the middle of their order and at first. Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche are reportedly the top targets. The Nats have, at one time or another, expressed a desire to add a leadoff man, most likely an outfielder, especially with Josh Willingham's name constantly mentioned in trade talk and with Nyjer Morgan's performance last year (and against lefties over his career) surely a cause for concern to some though it's always been said that he'll get every chance to fill the role next year.
Though the Nats admitted that the possibility of adding Cliff Lee is unlikely, as Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported today in an article entitled, "With holes to fill and money to spend, Nationals prepare for winter meetings", and though it may, "...sound like a pipe dream," there are, "...some people within the organization [who] are pushing for the Nationals to pursue Carl Crawford, an ideal free agent." With the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels all expected to make plays for Crawford, who's spent the last nine years helping build the Tampa Bay Rays into a perennial contender, it's unlikely he'll want to start the process again in D.C. even if they're willing to outspend the competition.
Mike Rizzo's known for his ability to build teams through scouting and the Draft. The Nats have committed to this part of Rizzo's plan outspending the rest of the league in each of the last two drafts. They've let Adam Dunn walk, seemingly with Rizzo willing to go a different direction at first. They made a run at the top pitching prospect to come out of Cuba in years (Aroldis Chapman) and added what Rizzo called the team's "first major international signing" (Yunesky Maya) on the recommedation of the rebuilt Front Office Mr. Rizzo's assembled after he took over as GM and which he's called "the best and brightest scouting and front office types". When Rizzo signed a five-year extension back in mid-October he said that though "There really hasn't been a shortage of my stamp on the organization," with the D.C. GM involved in the franchise's development since he arrived in 2006, now that he's the General Manager, "It will be my baby," Rizzo said, "and my fingerprints will be all over the organization, more so than they are already."
If the Nationals are willing to boost the payroll (which was around $66M last year and is around $36-40M right now), adding $30-$40 million this Winter there's certainly more than enough money to take runs at Lee and Crawford (or Jayson Werth) but they're not likely to sign any of the three, which the Nats would be wise to continue to admit (judging by the fans' reaction to feeling they were strung along on Dunn). But the Nats' ownership should, taking Kasten's advice and giving Rizzo the financial backing to further stamp his imprint on the organization, allow the veteran scout and second-year GM to build the team he wants with the focus on, "pitching, defense, speed and athleticism", as he's said several times recently.
The next step in the process begins with the Winter Meetings on Monday. What's Rizzo's next move? What can Nats fans expect? In Rizzo We Trust. Let's hope the Lerners do too.