"We look at the big picture of center field," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said during an MLB Network Radio interview this morning while discussion the Washington Nationals' search for a center fielder/leadoff man, "And we see the 2013 free agent class at center field is much stronger than it is for the 2012 season." The Nationals tried Jayson Werth out in center at the end of the 2011 season and they were apparently comfortable enough with what they saw that they're not rushing into anything this winter. "We know Jayson [Werth] can handle the center field position," Rizzo said, while admitting, "It's not a perfect world for us. He's a good defender out there. He's ready, willing and able to take on the responsibility to play center field, but we recognize that we need a true gliding, defensive, rangy center [fielder] out there in a perfect world."
"But, as far as the 2012 season," Rizzo continued, "we're not going to make a knee-jerk reaction and lock ourselves into anything long-term if it doesn't make sense for us, because we do have a pretty potent corner outfielder waiting in the minor leagues in the name of Bryce Harper. So, we feel that we do have that power left-handed bat, but he's going to come to Spring Training and we're going to see how he fits into the major league picture in 2012. But with that said we feel that Jayson can handle the position in the short-term, but we're always looking to improve the ballclub and we have a vision of what I'd like the team to look like."
Does that vision included soon-to-be-international-free-agent Yoenis Cespedes? The Nats' GM was asked about the HR-hitting 26-year-old Cuban slugger by ESPN980's Thom Loverro this afternoon in an interview on The Sports Fix. "We've scouted him quite a bit," Rizzo said, "Our professional scouts have seen him play in all the international tournaments. I think we've got a log of 26 actual games that we've seen him play in live. I went down to the Dominican [Republic] about a month or so ago now and had a private, personal workout with him. He's a very impressive-looking player. He's a big, physical, strapping guy. Kind of on the lines of an NFL running back or outside linebacker. He's about a 5'11'', 200 lb center fielder. He moves great, he runs well and he's got all the skills that can translate into being a good major league player."
"With that said," Rizzo continued, "Our international people, we have an affinity for him, we like him a lot and we'll see where that takes us. There's some questions: 'Can he stay in CF with that big, physical frame of his?' That's one question. You always have the question of, 'What level of play do you see him play in those international tournaments?' and, 'Can he handle the everyday grind of a major league season?' So, we've scouted him as you could imagine we've scouted him quite a bit. We feel comfortable with our knowledge of him and we'll see where that takes us."
Asked if the "relative lack of success" among Cuban position players who've moved to the majors would influence his decision, the Nats' GM said no, and pointed out that, "What comes into play more and what the questions marks in your mind are, [are], 'Have you seen this player enough? Do you feel comfortable with this player? Comfortable enough to give him X amount of years at X amount of dollars?' Because you're not talking about the usual signs that you make out of the Dominican Republic for a young 16-and-a-half or 17-year-old kid.
"This is a major league contract at major league money and mistakes of this proportion can really set you back a long way," Rizzo explained, "So, I don't think it's so much the history of players coming over here, but it's how much exposure have they had? What kind of gut feeling do you have? What kind of comfort level do you have? Have you seen this guy enough? Have you seen him in different circumstances? How does he handle the transformation from being a Cuban exile to life in the major leagues and have you seen him against the highest quality competition? How does he handle failure? Those are all questions that you need to feel very, very comfortable with and if you're not, this is somebody you should not walk away from, [but] run away from."
So Werth in center in 2012?