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Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo on the pursuit of Jason Heyward, bullpen additions and more

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The Washington Nationals made a play for free agent outfielder Jason Heyward, but came up short. They also made offers to reliever Darren O'Day and infielder Ben Zobrist, both of whom signed elsewhere. Rizzo talked about those offers and the trade he did make.

Photo © federalbaseball.com
Photo © federalbaseball.com

Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters this afternoon at WinterFest in a wide-ranging interview in which he touched on the Nationals' free agent targets this winter, their competitive offers to Jason Heyward, Darren O'Day and Ben Zobrist, all of whom signed elsewhere and the deal that sent Yunel Escobar to the Los Angeles Angels.

The Nationals reportedly made an offer of something close to $200M to Heyward, the 26-year-old outfielder who instead signed on with the Chicago Cubs, but Rizzo said the Nats made what he described as an "aggressive" offer.

"We made an aggressive, legitimate, market value offer to a terrific player and he decided to take it elsewhere." -Mike Rizzo on pursuit of free agent outfielder Jason Heyward

"It was a disappointment, obviously that we didn't land Jason, who is a terrific player, great citizen and an all-around good guy," Rizzo said, "but those things are expected. We have alternative plans for everything that we get done and for things that we don't get done, so we wish him well and we'll certainly make arrangements to improve the roster in other ways."

A reporter asked if the deal they offered Heyward was a competitive one?

"I think it was," he said. "We made an aggressive, legitimate, market value offer to a terrific player and he decided to take it elsewhere."

And the offers to O'Day, who took a four-year deal and returned to the Orioles, and Zobrist, who went to Chicago to play for Joe Maddon again? Were they competitive as well?

"Definitely," Rizzo said. "They were competitive, market-value deals and things that came into play that they decided to go to other places.

"When they sign somewhere else you have to have an alternative plan to fill those holes and we think that we have a strategy in play that we're going to improve the club when it's all said and done."

As for any common thread that led to each of the three spurning the Nationals' advances?

"I don't see any common thing between the three other than they chose the teams that they chose over many, many teams that have interest in them," Rizzo said.

Before last week's Winter Meetings ended, the Nationals did manage to pull off a trade, sending Yunel Escobar to the Los Angeles Angels in return for right-handed relievers Trevor Gott and Michael Brady.

"With the shifting around of Anthony Rendon back to third base, we figured if we could get a good return for Yuni this year that we would go ahead and make a trade..." -Mike Rizzo on trading Yunel Escobar to the Angels this week

Escobar seemed like a potential sell-high candidate this winter, coming off a .314/.375/.415, 2.1 fWAR season in D.C., but Rizzo said it was still difficult to part ways with the 33-year-old infielder.

"Those are always tough decisions. Yuni was a great teammate for us," Rizzo said. "He had a terrific year and with the shifting around of Anthony Rendon back to third base, we figured if we could get a good return for Yuni this year that we would go ahead and make a trade and we thought that we did very well in the swap for two very good right-handed relief pitchers."

Rizzo talked at length about what the Nationals got in Gott, who debuted in the majors with the Angels last season.

"Trevor Gott is a very aggressive, young, controllable right-handed pitcher," he said.

"He's got mid-to-upper 90s velocity. He's got good movement on his fastball. We took a good look at his delivery and the way he attacks hitters and it was something that we really liked and we think that he's going to be a major factor for us, not only this year, but down the road too."

What role Gott will fill in the bullpen is unclear, and will likely be decided this Spring.

"We'll go to Spring Training and see where it all works out," Rizzo explained. "But it's another quality mid-to-upper 90s arm to go with several of the guys that we already have."

"It's changed, obviously, with the allegations against him. It's something that we're not going to continue to go after until we find out how things have happened." -Mike Rizzo on rumors of interest in Aroldis Chapman

Could the hard-throwing right-hander end up pitching high-leverage innings at the back of the 'pen some day?

"That's always the hope for guys who have great arms and have the mentality to pitch later in the games," Rizzo said.

"He proved with the Angels that he's capable of doing it. We foresee putting him in the mix with our other bullpen guys that really have plus stuff and we feel good about the depth and the quality of guys that we have in there."

Rizzo also talked about two of the free agent relievers the Nationals did sign in Shawn Kelley and Yusmeiro Petit.

"Kelley is another aggressive right-handed pitcher that attacks hitters," he said.

"He's got a really good sinking fastball and a wipeout slider and a guy that's pitched leverage innings for different teams, proved that he could do it in big markets like New York City and was great with the Padres, so we liked what we saw when he pitched against us at times and scouts really liked his demeanor and his aggressive nature on the mound."

Petit, 31, would appear to be a good option to replace Craig Stammen as a right-handed long-man out of the Nationals' bullpen.

"He's a terrific major league pitcher," Rizzo said. "He's a good swing guy, started games for a World Championship team. Pitched leverage innings in the playoffs and he's battle-tested and really gives the manager a lot of freedom and diversity. He can start, he can relieve, he can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, he can spot start for you and he can be in the rotation for you."

One reliever that the Nationals' GM said they won't continue to pursue, given recent revelations regarding alleged domestic violence, is Cincinnati Reds' closer Aroldis Chapman.

Rumors this week, even after the reports on Chapman came out during the Winter Meetings, said the Nationals might still be interested in trading for the left-hander, but Rizzo said right now they're not.

"It's changed, obviously, with the allegations against him," he explained.

"It's something that we're not going to continue to go after until we find out how things have happened. It's something that we don't want to get into that because of the allegations against him.

"So there's plenty of other targets that we have and we're going to move on to those."