Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was in the nation's capital on Wednesday to accept the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's Hometown Hero Award in recognition of the fact that he, "... has been integral to the success of D.C.'s baseball franchise," which in turn has positively impacted, "... District residents, businesses and fans alike." The Nats' 69-year-old skipper, who turns 70 in January, hit all the familiar notes from recent months in his speech and comments to reporters during the ceremony at the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's annual luncheon.
"Next year is going to be my last year and I’m going to go out with my fourth World Series ring," Johnson said in a short acceptance speech from the stage. When he spoke to writers afterward, he talked about the Nats' continued interest in seeing Adam LaRoche return, the need to add a left-hander to the pen and the team's desire to bring in more starting pitching depth.
The Nationals have expressed a desire to see LaRoche return to the nation's capital in 2013 all winter, with Johnson himself humorously urging the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winning infielder to return on several occasions. Washington Post writer James Wagner quoted Johnson yesterday saying that he thought, "'... there were some positive signs from [General Manager Mike Rizzo] that he thought we could get something done before Christmas." The Nationals' manager said much the same when he talked to reporters at the recently-completed MLB Winter Meetings.
The left-hander the Nationals are rumored to be after for their bullpen, free agent reliever J.P. Howell, has expressed interest in joining the Nationals, telling MLB.com's Bill Ladson recently, "'I love [the Nationals'] style, and they are absolutely loaded,'" but so far this winter the Nationals have signed only Zach Duke and Bill Bray to make up for the loss of Sean Burnett and the expected departure of Tom Gorzelanny.
Outside of the decision at first between bringing LaRoche back or sticking with Michael Morse and the need for bullpen help, Johnson explained at the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's luncheon, as quoted by the WaPost's Mr. Wagner, that, "... the only area we’re a little short in is starting pitching." Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in a teleconference announcing the signing of free agent starter Dan Haren last week that the team was, "... very comfortable and confident with the five current rotation guys that we've got," and, "... the current guys that we feel that could be that sixth, seventh or eighth major league starters if need be," but added that, "... with that said, we're always on the lookout to [improve] our ballclub."
"A lot of the studs are coming back from injury are probably in Double A," Johnson told the Washington Post on Wednesday, pointing to 24-year-old, 2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis and 22-year-old, 2011 3rd Round pick Matt Purke. "There’s some new guys on our roster I haven’t seen," the Nats' skipper added, "I heard about this [Erik] Davis who is having a heck of a winter. I’m interested to see the new guys." In addition to Davis, the 26-year-old reliever acquired from San Diego in March 2011, the Nationals added 25-year-old, 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Nathan Karns to the 40-Man Roster to protect both pitchers from potentially being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
Solis had Tommy John surgery this past winter after a 2011 campaign in which he had a 3.26 ERA with 23 walks (2.14 BB/9) and 93 Ks (8.66 K/9) in 96.2 IP between Class-A Hagerstown and Potomac.
Purke, the highly-regarded prospect whose shoulder issues led to him dropping to the Nationals in the 3rd Round of the 2011 Draft, made just three appearances at Class-A Hagerstown in 2012 before he went on the DL. The left-hander, who signed a 4-year/$4.15M major league deal after he was drafted out of Texas Christian University, eventually had surgery on the shoulder, telling the Washington Times' Amanda Comak this past October that doctors said that the damage wasn't as bad as expected. "'I'm ready to get back out there and finally pitch the way I know I can and what I'm supposed to,'" Purke said.
Erik Davis, the last of the three pitchers Davey Johnson mentioned, split his 2012 campaign between Double-A Harrisburg where he was (7-3) with a 2.52 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 18 walks (2.52 BB/9) and 69 Ks (9.65 K/9) and Triple-A Syracuse where he made eight relief appearances, posting a 4.15 ERA, 4.52 FIP, two walks and five Ks in 8.2 IP. The right-hander then went to the Dominican Winter League where he put up a 0.47 ERA over 17 games and 19.0 IP, walking seven (3.32 BB/9) and striking out 19 (9.00 K/9) for the Gigantes del Cibao.
In addition to the pitchers Washington parted with (Tom Milone, Brad Peacock A.J. Cole and Alex Meyer) in acquiring Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A's and Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins, the Nationals suffered another blow to the pitching depth at the higher levels of the system when left-hander Danny Rosenbaum was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the Rule 5 Draft. When Assistant GM Bryan Minniti spoke to reporters, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, at the Winter Meetings, he said the difficulty in adding depth lies in, "... recruiting guys who know that they're going to probably end up in Triple-A, barring an injury." The Nats' Asst. GM predicted that any such signings will likely take place much later this winter once the market sorts itself out and options are reduced for those pitchers looking for a home.
So the LaRoche talks are on hold as he waits to see if there's a better offer out there. The search for a left-handed reliever continues and the Nats have to wait and see what pitching remains out there they can add as depth if they don't make any trades to bring in prospects that can replace some of what they've lost.