D.C. GM Mike Rizzo made an appearance on the Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio show "Inside Pitch" this afternoon with former Nats' GM Jim Bowden and his co-host Casey Stern to talk about the state of the Washington Nationals. The conversation began with a question about how Washington was going to go about finding the last few pieces they feel they need to become a contender? According to the current Nats' general manager, the Nationals are, "... really in the process now of evaluating what we have. Who's coming? How quickly can we count on them being here? And that's probably the most important thing we're doing this offseason is evaluating ourselves and [seeing] where we're at."
Rizzo told the show's hosts that he and his scouts have been to Arizona and their people have scouted the Winter Leagues where their players are in action. "We've got a good handle on where we're at," the Nats' GM said, "I don't think things have changed really all that drastically since the end of the season. We still feel that we need to find an answer in center field and we feel that Jayson Werth could go out there and play there if we had to go that route, but I'd rather keep Jayson in right field, I think he's a better fit there and try to find that center field piece."
The Nationals are still interested in adding a pitcher to the rotation. "To combat the rotations of the Braves and the Marlins and the Phillies and even the Mets, we have to strengthen our rotation a little bit," Rizzo explained, "Chien-Ming Wang was a step in that direction. We feel that he's a solid no. 4 starter for us. We'll have one of our younger players, [Ross] Detwiler, [Tom] Milone, [Brad] Peacock, they'll be vying for that 5th starter spot and [Stephen] Strasburg and [Jordan] Zimmermann will be at the top of it."
When it was pointed out that he'd left John Lannan out of the mix, and when he was asked if Lannan might be a trade or non-tender possibilty, Rizzo said it was simply an oversight. "John's been a great pitcher for us, he's terrific. A middle-3.00 ERA, a ground ball machine, guy who's going to give us 185.0-200.0 innings. He's a good piece for us, he's a big piece for us, that was just an omission on my part. But we look at Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Wang and one of the young pitchers, Detwiler, Milone Peacock as our five starters."
As for the Nats' '09 no. 1 overall pick, Stephen Strasburg, Rizzo said his return late last season was, "... an important part of the plan. It's one thing to be throwing pain free and to be throwing with velocity and your stuff. It's another to pitch at the highest level of baseball in the major leagues and show that you can compete there again. We thought that was a big part of his rehab process, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. We thought that he needed to get back on the mound."
If the Nationals were to acquire the sort of veteran starter they've talked about pursuing, a C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt or a Mark Buehrle, they could then potentially trade some of the pitching they've developed for the center fielder they need. Is that a possibility? "We certainly have had those discussions," Rizzo said, "We like all those pitchers. Buehrle is a 200.0-inning machine, controls the running game, works fast, I think he'd be a good role model for our pitchers. As Oswalt would be...he's a fiery competitive guy who comes right at you, and both work hard. C.J. Wilson has had the taste of postseason now for a couple of years, and has really emerged since coming from the bullpen..."
"You've got other possibilities. There's the trade front to get yourself a starting pitcher," Rizzo explained, "And again, we do have to solve the center field situation and that would probably come from a trade from our depth, our minor league depth or major-league-ready players." In the free agent market, Rizzo said, "We see that there are some good values out there and there's some extremely talented players in the free agent market. We just have to decide if they're a good fit for us? If the timeline works? If the age of the player works? What do we have in the minor leagues that could fulfill that position in a year or so? Those are all decisions that each individual club has to make."
"We see the free agent market as a market that has some things that interest us," Rizzo said, "We're certainly not going to block any of our future players that we think will help us in the very near future by signing somebody to a long-term contract. Like I said, we feel set position player-wise and rotation-wise, now it's a matter of, 'Can we improve ourselves and upgrade by a free agent signing or a trade?'"
Asked if one could assume from what he had said that the Nationals won't be players on the big names at the top of the free agent list like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes, Rizzo said, "I think that's a safe assumption. Things can change rapidly in this business. If a spot were to become available because of a trade if you trade a shortstop or a first baseman type of thing then you may be in that market place, but as it stands right now today in November, we feel that we're set at shortstop, second base and first base. And those are four extreme game-changer type of players, but we feel that we like the core and the nucleus that we have right now and we feel that they're cost-effective and there are good players on the way up and we're extremely happy with what we've got right now there."
"All the moves we make, we're going to stick to our plan," Rizzo concluded, "But we feel that the plan could come to fruition sooner than expected." The team, maybe for the first time, the GM said, thinks they can win, and there's an expectation of winning that wasn't there before. "The moves that we make are going to be for today and for the future," Rizzo said, "And we feel that we've got a good thing going here, and we're going to continue to be aggressive and to build on what we have through scouting, through player development and through effiicient signs on the free agent market and the trade market and try to construct a winner not only for this year, 2012, but for a consistent winner down the road."