Welcome to the first installment of a new feature on MASNsports.com: Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s weekly blog.
Each week during the 2010 season, Rizzo will bring his insight straight to you, only on MASNsports.com. Look out for video blogs when the Nationals are at home at Nats Park and expect Q&As between Rizzo and MASNsports.com Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling from the road - and some weeks, you’ll get a chance to send your questions straight to the man in charge of building the Nationals.
So check out Rizzo’s first entry of the 2010 season and start submitting your questions for the Nats GM using the comment box below!
Ben Goessling: We’ve talked a lot today already about the Nationals’ decision to release (right-fielder) Elijah Dukes. When you look at the other outfielders you have in the organization, are there guys beyond the obvious four or five in the majors that make you feel like, ‘We’re going to be okay in the outfield?’
Mike Rizzo: I think in the short-term, the four or five guys we have in camp right now are going to be in the answer. But we certainly have longer-term answers down in the minor leagues. We’ve got terrific prospects like (Michael) Burgess. We’re comfortable with our long-term situation in right field, and our short-term situation in right field will be taken care of by the four or five in-house candidates we have.
BG: We got to see Burgess and (Destin) Hood a little bit (on Tuesday against the Cardinals). Realistically, are those guys still a couple years away?
Mike Rizzo: Yeah, yeah. Burgess, I think, is much closer than Hood. I think Burgess has made great strides over the winter and this spring. But he is a couple years away.
BG: Is the thing for him just recognizing the strike zone, cutting down the strikeouts? Is that the main thing he needs to do?
Mike Rizzo: He’s going through a major transformation with his approach and his mechanics. He and Eck (hitting coach Rick Eckstein) are working diligently and re-doing his whole approach at the plate to allow him to utilize his terrific power more and improve his strike zone awareness.
BG: What are they working on?
Mike Rizzo: It’s hand positioning, balance positioning, where the body position is at point of contact - very, very delicate, intricate type of movements.
BG: All the wonkish hitting stuff that Rick likes to do?
Mike Rizzo: Exactly, exactly (laughs).
BG: When you look at the right-field situation, Willie (Harris) has played there, (Chris) Duncan has played there. Have (Justin) Maxwell and (Roger) Bernadina showed they can take that step and play a significant number of games there?
Mike Rizzo: Certainly, they’ve shown flashes of the skills it takes to be a good corner outfielder. Roger, being sidetracked last year because he missed a whole bunch of at-bats (with an ankle injury) - it’s set him back a little bit. But he is also working with Rick on refining his mechanics. He’s come a long way, and we all know the rest of his game is terrific.
BG: With Guzman, there’s been a lot of talk about his shoulder and how healthy he is. Are you confident in his health right now, that if he’s the Opening Day shortstop, you feel like you’re good to go there?
Mike Rizzo: I’m confident that he’s going to be prepared for Opening Day. I haven’t seen yet that he’s at 100 percent of his throwing capacity. But he feels great. He says he’s coming along, and I trust that. I do see him increasing in his arm strength, and that’s always a good sign.
BG: You see a few other teams having shortstop issues. Have you any interest in him, trade-wise, or is that something you’d look at?
Mike Rizzo: I’ll answer that question like I answer all of them: We look at everybody if there’s interest in trades. He’s certainly not unique in that regard. We have a veteran shortstop that’s a .300 hitter, that’s a switch hitter and he’s done it at the highest level. This guy is a major player at a critical position. Would we think about offers for him? Him, and everybody else, if it’s the right deal. This guy is a vital player for the organization, because he’s a productive player at a very impactful position. I don’t want to say that, ‘Yeah, I would listen to trades on him,’ because that makes it sound like we’re trying to trade him, and we’re certainly, certainly not.
BG: Adam Dunn’s contract is something a lot of people are asking about. Is there progress (on an extension) - is that something you’re optimistic about getting done by Opening Day?
Mike Rizzo: I can’t say there’s been a lot of progress. We have had discussions. We’ve had further discussions since spring training started. I’ve met with his representative - and you guys didn’t even know about it (laughs).
BG: He’s said he wants (a deal) done by Opening Day, but (Ryan) Zimmerman’s contract was done after that last year. If you’re working on it and his agent is working on it, is Opening Day a deadline for you at all?
Mike Rizzo: I hate to put any date restrictions on anything, because I don’t want to rush anything. I don’t want him to feel rushed, and we don’t want to feel rushed. If there’s a deal to be done here, we certainly have both sides that are willing participants.
BG: The tenor of those talks has still been good? Everybody is still hoping to get that done at some point?
Mike Rizzo: The dialogue has been very amicable and upbeat.
BG: That’s something that’s still high on your priority list?
Mike Rizzo: Yeah. It’s something we think about all the time, and we’re discussing that.