The Washington Nationals were rumored to have interest in free agent right-hander Zack Greinke. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged that he'd at least thought about the possibility. The Nats have tried to acquire the pitcher in the past. As Rizzo explained tonight, however, in a conversation with reporters, Dan Haren was the Nationals' target from the start this winter. "He was the guy that we identified early in the offseason as our primary target," the Nats' general manager said.
"We felt all along that Zack Greinke was the top free agent in the class," Rizzo continued, "but we felt that Dan Haren fit us the best this season because of the length of his contract, the talent, ability and the type of pitcher that he was. So, he was our primary target going into it, we acted quickly and aggressively, showed our interest right away and ultimately after meeting with his agents in Nashville we got the deal finalized, pending a physical obviously."
Haren completed and passed his physical on Thursday and toured Nationals Park, meeting with a few of the Nats' players that were on hand working out in D.C. Washington's GM got the pitcher he wanted. "Dan is one of the most accomplished pitchers of the last couple years," Rizzo said, explaining his interest in Haren, "He's a workhorse. He's a guy who's been on the disabled list one time in his major league career. He's a three-time All-Star, his credentials are impeccable and we feel really good that he's with the Washington Nationals."
While concerns about the back issues he struggled with early last season and a hip issue he's dealt with throughout his career reportedly worried some of Haren's potential suitors, the Nats' GM said that the team was confident in his abilities and satisfied with what they saw in his medical records and his physical.
"He's pitched with the [hip] condition I think since college and throughout his professional major league career," Rizzo explained. "The back issue was something that was of concern to us," the general manager admitted, "so once we took a look at the MRIs and the film and our doctor put his hands on him, saw the condition of his back and his hip and his total physical condition, he signed off on him and said that those things were risks that were within the guidelines of acceptable."
The 32-year-old Haren will be a leader on a relatively young staff that will include (barring at setbacks, hiccups or injuries), Stephen Strasburg (24 yo), Jordan Zimmermann (26), Ross Detwiler (26) and Gio Gonzalez (27). Rizzo thinks Haren will do well in that role. "He's a talented workhorse, a guy who pitches quality innings and a lot of them," the Nationals' GM said, "I think he's averaged well over 200 innings in his major league career... so he knows how to pitch long into the season, he's a workhorse, he's got quality stuff, his numbers sabermetrically are off the charts, and our scouts really love the command of his pitches, his repertoire and his competitiveness."
With the success the Nationals have had over the last few seasons, Rizzo said, it's not quite as hard to pitch players like Haren on the idea of coming to the nation's capital any more. "I think this is a nice destination for players," the 51-year-old executive said, "It's a beautiful city. It's a great ballpark. It's got a great fanbase. It's an up-and-coming team. If you're a pitcher it's a great place to be because with the amount of runs we score, and the defense we play, the athleticism that we have on the team, it's something that really attracts a lot of players."
"People recognize where we're at as a minor league system, as a big league club, and they really recognize that this is a team that's going to be good to play for for a long time. So it's gotten a whole lot easier to talk to players, and to recruit players and players [are] actually seeking us out to recruit us for them."
The Nationals have Haren under contract now, but they aren't necessarily done trying to improve the ballclub this winter. The Nats are still talking to Adam LaRoche, still looking for starting depth and still looking for a left-hander for the bullpen to replace Sean Burnett, who signed with the Angels, Haren's now-former team, this week. "We feel really good about our five starters in the rotation," Rizzo told reporters tonight, "We feel that we have options below that. I think what I've always said [is] we're never satisfied with what we have. If we can do better, we'll certainly attempt to do better and I'm always after depth."
"We feel very comfortable and confident with the five current rotation guys that we've got," Rizzo concluded, "And the current guys that we feel that could be that sixth, seventh or eighth major league starters if need be, but again, with that said, we're always on the lookout to [improve] our ballclub." As for any LaRoche updates, Rizzo said there were none, "It's been quiet since the end of the Winter Meetings." Bullpen help? "Same response, nothing has changed since the Winter Meetings."