Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen this afternoon in an interview from NatsFest that though the defending NL East champs and their fanbase have come a long way since the 100-loss days just a few years back, he tries to never forget what it took to get where they are now. "I try to never forget about that," the 52-year-old Nats' executive said, "because it's really a driving force of mine to never get in that situation again. These things are very cyclical and they're very fluid and we always have to remember, and that's why my credo is always, 'We're always looking at this year, but we're always looking for the future,' and when most of the fans are looking at the 25-man roster, myself and my staff, we're looking at the 250-man roster throughout the system and trying to keep this thing going for the long term."
The Nats' General Manager eventually signed free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year/$24M dollar deal this winter, after LaRoche spent a considerable amount of time looking for a three-year deal. In today's interview, Rizzo said that he felt the veteran infielder earned the right to check the market with nine years of hard work. "These guys earn free agency," Rizzo said, "It doesn't come easy. They're the elite players in the world and I felt for us to get the deal that we had to get to make it work, that it was almost my obligation to allow him to see what else was out there and then come back to us at the end and see if we could make a deal." LaRoche's return was one of the final pieces that came together for the 2013 roster. Earlier this winter the Nationals traded with the Twins to get the center fielder they've been after for the last few years.
Denard Span, acquired earlier from Minnesota straight-up for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, is a player the team and their general manager have been following for a long time now and as the GM explained today, they're confident about his health after he's struggled with concussion issues and played just one full season in the last three years. Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Mr. Paulsen that the Nationals were satisfied with what they saw from the 28-year-old outfielder when they looked at his medical records. "We've done a lot of due diligence on his health and where he was at," the GM said, "And he was a guy that we had our eyes on for several years. I've scouted him when he was a high school player in Florida. So I know the background, I know the history of the player."
In addition to being great in the community and in the clubhouse, Rizzo said Span, "... does a lot of things that we needed. We felt that if we got ourselves a prototypical defensive, ballhawking-type of center fielder, it would allow me to move [Bryce Harper] over to a corner where I think he's going to flourish offensively and really make his career that much longer." The Nationals moved Harper from behind the plate when they drafted him and are now moving him to a corner where they think he belongs, so that he can, "... focus more on his offensive ability and his offensive game rather than being that captain of the outfield where he's setting the defense and that type of thing."
The Nationals also made a significant addition to the rotation in the form of Dan Haren. Though other teams expressed concern about the 32-year-old right-hander's decreased velocity in the last few years and last season in particular as he struggled in the first half (going on the DL for the first time in his career) before improving in the second-half of his 10th MLB season, Rizzo said they were comfortable adding Haren after seeing his records as well. "We feel that we've got ourselves a guy that's going to contribute for us throughout the full season," Rizzo said, "And the guy that pitched last year, if we get that guy we'll certainly be satisfied with that, but we feel that we're going to get the guy that pitched in 2011 and 2010 and then we'll really have ourselves a front of the rotation guy pitching as one of our five starters."
As for the decrease in velocity over the last few years, Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Mr. Paulsen that he was confident that Haren would be completely recovered this season. "When we signed him he went directly to New York City and went with one of our orthopedics people there," Rizzo said, "They rubber stamped it and said that he's good to go. We've got a lot more flexibility in the hip area that has been something that he's pitched with his whole career. I saw him pitch with the hip situation all the way back in Pepperdine. So he's had this throughout his baseball career and we feel that he's going to increase range of motion in the hip which I think will translate into added velocity, which isn't his game, but I think that we're going to get back the guy that's pitching at 90-91 [mph] and touching 92 rather than the guy that's pitching at 88-90 and touching 91."
• Here are some of the other Tweeted highlights from NatsFest, which saw some 7,000 fans turn out to meet and talk to a members of the defending NL East Champion's roster...
.@chasehughescsn has the reaction from Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to the #Nats signing Rafael Soriano: bit.ly/YvIxkA— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) January 26, 2013
Drew Storen got a standing ovation when he walked on-stage for his fan Q@A. "That's an awesome feeling."— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) January 26, 2013
Interesting note from Jayson Werth: his wrist isn't as strong as he'd like, but feels good. Said total recovery for wrist actually ~18 mo.s.— Amanda Comak (@acomak) January 26, 2013
Bryce Harper was asked to be on Team USA in WBC. Declined because it'll be 1st spring really on big league team. Hopes to play in next WBC.— Amanda Comak (@acomak) January 26, 2013
Harper on LaRoche: "I’m just thankful I don’t have to hit four-hole." Not sure where he'll be in lineup but hopes to hit second behind Span.— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) January 26, 2013
Also, Harper did say he was asked to play for Team USA in the WBC, but declined. Said the ABs would just be too serious that early in ST— Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) January 26, 2013
OFFICIAL: #Nats introduce #5thPresident @natsbigchief27 to standing room only crowd at #NatsFest twitter.com/Nationals/stat…— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) January 26, 2013