Back at the start of Spring Training, before Josh Bell and the Nationals avoided arbitration, (agreeing on a 1-year/$10M deal for the veteran first baseman), Washington GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters about the potential of a long-term extension which would keep the 29-year-old, seven-year veteran in D.C. beyond this season, since Bell is set to hit free agency after this year. At that point, however, Rizzo said they hadn’t talked long-term with Bell’s reps.
“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Rizzo explained. “He’s an arbitration candidate for us, so we wouldn’t do anything before we get a deal done in arbitration anyways.”
So with that deal done, he was asked on Friday afternoon, when he spoke with the press in the nation’s capital before Game 2 of 162, has there been any extension discussion?
“Josh Bell is a guy that we really like, we made a trade for,” Rizzo said. “We’re concentrating on seeing if we can get something done with Juan Soto first. Like I said before, he’s our No. 1 priority, and we’re going to try to attack that one before we move on to anybody else.”
Soto, of course, reportedly turned down a 13-year/$350M offer before the lockout began, and when he was asked before the season-opener on Thursday if there have been talks, it wasn’t something he was interested in discussing heading into his fifth season in the bigs, with three seasons to play before he could possibly hit free agency.
Soto said it wasn’t something he was thinking about right now.
“Not at all. If you want to know about it, just call Scott [Boras] and he will tell you about it. For me, I’m just thinking about baseball right now.”
So, have Rizzo and Soto’s agent talked more since that last offer this winter?
“We’ve been in discussions,” Rizzo said. “We’ll continue to be in discussions, and we want him here, hopefully he wants to be here, and when something is newsworthy, we’ll let you know.”
Nationals’ catcher Keibert Ruiz came out swinging (and throwing and blocking) in his 2022 debut, with a caught stealing early, an out on a play at the plate, and two hits in the season opener.
After the game, Ruiz’s manager talked about how impressed he was with the 23-year-old’s work.
“Really, really good. Really good,” Martinez said when asked to assess Ruiz’s night.
“He threw [Starling] Marte out, which is tough to do, in the first inning, but he blocked some balls today, and he hit the ball well.”
“So, and I said this all along,” he added, “... I really like him offensively, and he’s learned so much from [Catching & Strategy Coach] Henry [Blanco] catching back there, and you can see that his hard work has paid off already.”
GM Mike Rizzo, who described Ruiz as the main cog in the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA in return for four prospects last July, talked on Friday afternoon about how the catcher has developed since joining the organization.
“To me what he does off the field is important,” Rizzo told reporters. “His preparation and his willingness to give to his pitching staff I think is really important. He has the skills, he’s a good offensive player, he’s a good defensive player, he blocks well, he frames pitches well, he throws well, and now we have got get him to be a game-caller, and I think that’s the next step in his progression.”
The General Manager in the nation’s capital also talked about the importance of having two of the players included in that trade up in the majors so quickly, so they can contribute and also give fans a glimpse of why the club was willing to trade both Scherzer and Turner last July.
“Well, I think that was part of our plan,” he said of getting major-league-ready talent from LA and the other clubs they dealt their expiring contracts (and a year-plus of Turner) to.
“That was our blueprint to contend in the very near future,” Rizzo said, “... and we made all the trades that we made — for the most part — for players who were close to the big leagues, and I think that’s just going to expedite us getting back into that championship-caliber window that we’re all aspiring to get to.”
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Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters on the second day of the regular season, after rain wiped out a potential on-field talk before the opener on Thursday, so though they were already a game in, the GM in D.C. was asked how he felt about the roster they brought north from their West Palm Beach home.
“We’re excited about the upcoming season,” he said. “Our expectations are the same as always, we want to play meaningful games in September, and that’s what we’re all about. Our little motto is, ‘We want to be one of the 12,’ and that’s still our expectation, and we’re looking forward to it. We’re looking forward to seeing the progression of our young players, we’ve got a good mix of young and old, we’ve got some mentors on the team who will help the young players get to where we want them to be, and that’s kind of the direction that we’re in.”
How did they make decisions between veterans and younger talents when it came to the 28-man Opening Day roster?
“It’s all about giving our prospects a chance to develop, and sometimes that has to happen in the minor leagues before they’re major league-ready, and injuries had a lot to do with some of those moves also, so we’re here to win baseball games at the major league level, but we’re also here to develop for the future.”
They didn’t have that much time to evaluate players this spring, in the three-week ramp-up to the 2022 season, but they’ll continue evaluating over the next few weeks too.
“Especially with a lot of new faces,” Rizzo said, “... so we’re getting to know a lot of these guys, we’re getting to evaluate them on a daily basis, and we’re — again, we had three short weeks in Spring Training and we’re just starting the season right now, so we’re going to see where we’re at, but we like the mix of the team and the attitude and the work that these guys have put in has been great.”