Though the Washington Nationals didn't come out of the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA with the second baseman they are reportedly after this winter, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters on Saturday at NatsFest in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. that he did have a number of discussions with other teams around the league and did manage to trade Ross Detwiler in return for minor league depth.
"I thought we made good progress," Rizzo said this afternoon. "We laid the foundation for further discussions and made the deal with Texas, acquired two young prospects for Ross and did a lot of investigating, a lot of kicking the tires for future possibilities."
The two prospects the Nationals received in return for Detwiler, infielder Chris Bostick and right-hander Abel de los Santos, helped the Nationals restock the system.
"The prospects, we scouted them extremely well," Rizzo told reporters. "They were both seen on multiple occasions this year and throughout their careers. Bostick is an offensive middle infielder. We feel that his power is on the come. He hit 11 HRs last year. He's an athletic player, runs well, has enough arm to play shortstop and a very versatile athlete that can play both shortstop and second base.
"[Abel] de lo Santos is a starter-made-reliever and since he's gone to the bullpen his velocity and stuff has spiked. Had a terrific year last year and we think that he'll come really quickly."
The decision to deal Detwiler, Rizzo explained, was made in part due to the Nationals' confidence in the left-handers they have available in the bullpen.
"I thought that we had some depth at pitching," Rizzo said. "In the bullpen we have Xavier Cedeno and we put Matt Grace on the roster, so we felt that we had great depth of our left-handed relievers. I thought it was a good time to acquire two good prospects for a player that was a five-plus that was going to leave [via] free agency after the season."
While Detwiler's representatives inquired about the Nats' plans for the left-hander going forward, Rizzo said today that the Nationals' 2007 1st Round pick never requested a trade.
"Ross never asked for a trade," Rizzo said clearly. "His representatives wanted to know what his situation was and I told them his situation was going to be one of our starting candidates after our starting five and competition there and then go to the bullpen. But he never asked for a trade and asking for a trade doesn't make me do a trade anyways."
The deal was the only one the Nationals consumated at the Winter Meetings, but there has been plenty of speculation about what the Nats will do going forward with five key players set to hit free agency after the 2015 campaign.
"We had a lot of trade ideas and we just haven't found the right time, place or situation to make trades," Rizzo said.
"We feel that we like the team that we have, but we certainly see room for improvement and to get better and we're always on the lookout to improve the ballclub."
The decisions they make, he explained, will not only be about 2015, but the long-term health of the organization.
"I think you have to have a strategy and a plan to look long-term," Rizzo said. "We're always about trying to win now, in 2015, but we also have to have a global view towards the future. We don't want to be just good for 2015, but good on a consistent basis.
With all the Nationals' players set to hit free agency after this season, however, thinking about the present and future is a tough balancing act.
"It always is a delicate balance," Rizzo admitted.
"When you have players on the cusp of free agency, you certainly have to make the hard decisions. The decisions we have are always in the line of winning in 2015 with an eye towards the future."
Asked for his current thoughts on negotiations with Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Ian Desmond, three of the five players who will become free agents after the upcoming season, Rizzo said they were under contract for 2015, and declined to comment further.
"They're signed right now, for 2015," he said, "and that's right now what we're focused on and that's all we can comment on the negotiations."
Rizzo and Zimmermann's representatives did meet last week, but he wasn't offering any details on plans for further discussions.
"We haven't set up [more meetings] yet, I haven't spoken to them since the Winter Meetings," Rizzo said.
While the Nationals continue to look for options at second base, Rizzo said there were several possibilities, including a platoon or the possible pursuit of a third baseman.
"We keep all our options open," Rizzo told reporters. "We certainly consider anything if it's a benefit to the ballclub."
Anthony Rendon's flexibility is allowing the Nats to explore all possibile infield solutions.
"Anthony [Rendon's] athletic ability and defensive prowess at both [second and third] gives us a unique opportunity to go for a third baseman and move Anthony to second base if we see that that is the upgrade we want to make."
Going forward, he explained, there are a lot of possibilities.
"We've got a lot of options," Rizzo said. "We can go a lot of different ways. We can stand pat and go with a team that we think is a very competitive ballclub. We can make a few tweaks here and there and I think that we're certainly going to address our depth both with pitching and with our position players.
"We've taken a step towards deepening our minor league system with the Detwiler trade.
"We'll continue to make trades that not only help us win in 2015, but gives us a chance beyond, but that was a prime example of how to use a veteran major league asset to acquire players that will help you down the road."
The Nationals, he explained, will continue to do what they have since he took over as the general manager, and the work they've done in previous seasons has led them to where they now stand.
"There's a reason that we're in the position we are in, because of what we've done in the past," he said.
"We've put ourselves in this position to be very flexible on what we do. We have a good team now that we know can compete to play meaningful games in October and we're going to take that and run with it."
UPDATE: For what it's worth, as the festivities at NatsFest were wrapping up, the following report came out via ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, which said that the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in Rizzo for their CEO job, as the continue to search for a replacement for president and CEO Paul Beeston.
Rizzo was unavailable for comment for the article according to Crasnick and the article wasn't published until after the Nats' GM spoke to reporters today:
Bonus Quotes: With some chatter about A.J. Cole possibly working out of the pen in the majors this season, I asked Mike Rizzo for his thoughts on Cole, if he thought he'd stay in a starting role in Syracuse, or maybe move to the bullpen in D.C.?:
"I think that he's our starting prospect, and a great starting prospect and a guy that you're going to hear from in the very near-future in Washington."
There was one semi-controversial development this afternoon at NatsFest. Bryce Harper, who is headed to a grievance hearing with the Nationals this Tuesday if they can't settle their disagreement over whether or not the 22-year-old should be able to opt out of his deal and into arbitration, decided not to attend NatsFest. Rizzo was asked about Harper's absence:
"We're disappointed he's not here, but he chose not to be here because of the grievance."
Bad decision on Harper's part? Or understandable given the situation?