The rumors, which started with MASNSports.com's Phil Wood's report in an article entitled, "After roster move, are Nats talking with Indians?", that "one pretty consistent source" had told him the Washington Nationals were still pursuing "a number" of trade options in their search for a rotation addition, while another anonymous "big league scout" said, "...he'd heard some 'conversations' had taken place between the Nats and the [Cleveland] Indians about starting pitcher Fausto Carmona and outfielder Grady Sizemore," gained such traction, (as MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince) put it on twitter) and have been repeated (and retweeted) so often, that both teams' general managers, separately, felt the need to address the subject directly through the media yesterday...
Cleveland Indians' GM Chris Antonetti, in an AP article at SI.com entitled, "Indians GM shoots down Sizemore trade rumors", was quoted yesterday at a "town hall" meeting with fans saying that though he wouldn't usually directly respond to rumors, "in this instance I will say we have had absolutely no discussions with any team regarding Grady [Sizemore]." D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, in an appearance with former Nats' general manager Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch, said much the same, explaining that, "We don't like to discuss any type of trade discussions that we had," but, "The truth behind that is we made inquiries on Fausto Carmona really early in the winter and haven't circled around since then."
As for the sort of discussions that lead to the rumors like the Carmona/Sizemore chatter, the Nats' GM said that Mr. Bowden, the former front office exec knew how it was, "We talk to our fellow general managers, a couple of them, probably every day about different subjects, and you know, I'm no different. We're talking to a lot of people. We've got a lot of ideas, and some of them are dismissed, you know, within one phone call, but some of them have some legs and you can ultimately come up with something with some of the discussions that you have."
Though the pitching help the Nats think they need apparently won't come from Cleveland, the Nats' GM explained to the Inside Pitch hosts, as he did in a recent press conference, that the team's roster additions, which were aimed at improving the defense, speed and athleticism of the Nats' roster, will hopefully make a difference in 2011 and the future if the team becomes a more attractive destination:
"Next year I think some starting pitchers will find this a good ballpark to pitch in and a defense that they'll want to pitch behind and an offense that they know will score enough runs, and I think that it will be much easier in the future to obtain those quality free agent starters than it has been in the past."
With the additions of veteran players like RHP Todd Coffey, 1B Adam LaRoche, RF Jayson Werth, OF Rick Ankiel, and IF/OF's Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Alex Cora, among others, the Nationals have added, potentially, a good deal of balance and "veteran leadership" to the bench, which Mr. Rizzo said on the Sirius/XM show was definitely part of the plan for the Nats' Front Office this offseason:
"I think it's a big part of my plan. I think it's a big part of a winning organization, because we certainly have to teach our good young players how to be good young winning major league players and a lot of it obviously is between the lines, but there's a big portion of it that's in the clubhouse, in the dugout, in the community, and these guys have to learn how to be major leaguers and it comes to down to the simplest things like when do you go out at night, how do you take care of yourself, and make sure you're ready to play in the morning and those type of things that if you don't have that veteran leadership guys are going on the fly. And I think more careers are retarded in that fact than really get developed, so these guys are vitally important. Jerry Hairston gives us great flexibility between the white lines and also as a vocal energetic guy that's going to serve us well in the clubhouse and in the dugout also. I think [Alex] Cora is going to be a manager in the big leagues someday, I really believe and I think he's often viewed even on the field as a manager that's playing second base or shortstop."
"What about Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa?" the Nats' general manager was asked, "What does [Desmond] have to do to cut down on errors/mistakes?" The addition of LaRoche at first was made with the intention of improving the Nats' infield defensively, but Mr. Rizzo thinks Desmond himself improved defensively throughout the year, pocketing some of the plays he'd once thrown away and using his range to limit hitters to singles rather than ending great efforts with throwing errors which accounted for 13 of his league-leading 34 E's last season:
"I think that the majority of his errors early on in the season were just errors of...I call them 'energy' errors. He'd make a play in left field where Derek Jeter puts the ball in his pocket, and concedes the base hit, but with Desmond's range and arm and his thought process is that he can throw out anybody, and he's gonna sail a ball over the first baseman's head and the runner gets second base, so he chalks up an error where it should have been a base hit. He's got such great range and such great skill and a great arm that he thinks he can throw out anybody.
"It's the 'Brett Favre syndrome' where he thinks he can throw a ball through a needle and complete the pass. Later on in the season [Desmond] was much more judicial in his thought process, he ate many, many balls, his footwork got much better toward the end of the season, and I think that just those energy errors and the fact that he'll have a better feel for the speed of the game, the speed of the balls off the bat, the speed of the players that hit those balls with a year under his belt. I think he's going to [improve by] leaps and bounds and the other parts of this guy's game are really attractive also. He's a good offensive player. When we put him in the two-hole he really excelled in that role. He excelled in the leadership role, and this guy's a student of the game, he really knows how to play it, he really cares about it, and like I said...he was doing most of the talking when the manager went to the mound, he was doing most of the talking, like a good shortstop should being the director of that infield."
Will LaRoche make that big a difference defensively? Can Werth and LaRoche together make up for what Adam Dunn provided to the Nats' lineup in the two previous seasons? Can second baseman Danny Espinosa win the job at second, perform every day and hit well enough to hold it? Can Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse make up for what the Nationals got from Josh Willingham? Can Jesus Flores and Wilson Ramos LoDuca Pudge Rodriguez? Do the Nationals have the 7-8 pitchers they'll need this year to stay competitive enough to be the 70-72 win team they're expected to be?